What does it take for a person to be good in a society that is fundamentally bad? This is the question Bertolt Brecht’s The Good Person of Szechwan sets out to explore, with the help of three meddling gods and a young woman named Shen Teh (Juliet Okotie). Let’s start by saying that if you aren’t a fan of the open-ended play, this is not the classic for you. But, if you are inherently interested in Brecht, it is a worthwhile production nestled in this warm basement theatre at Barons Court.
Given that this is a fairly straight version of Brecht’s classic, the performances and staging take top priority. And on this, I have mixed feelings. On the one hand, there were quite a few moments that fell short of the mark – some stuttered lines, and the speed and accuracy of Brecht’s work delivered without the crispness it demands. On the other hand, there were plenty of very good moments as well. Okotie is the standout here, particularly in her transformation to Shui Ta. Worth mentioning also is Dalila McFarlane-Martin, whose voice as First God is heavenly to listen to.
There are moments in which I’d hoped the abruptness and strangeness of Brecht’s work were more pronounced – that the performers could have really gone for it, embraced the strangeness and some of the jarring dialogue even more. But despite this, the play is well executed and the staging is simple but effective. I appreciated the stylised costume changes, drawing attention to the skill required of the cast to execute a vast variety of characters.
In all, The Good Person of Szechwan will certainly inspire questions – it is a demanding play in many ways, and if you are in the mood for provocation and philosophical discussion, this production remains as relevant and interesting as ever.
Review by Christina Calgaro
‘The Good Person of Szechwan’ by Bertolt Brecht translated by John Willet, directed by Brigitte Adela
Can a good person exist in an unjust society? Three gods come to earth in search of enough good people to justify their existence. They find Shen Teh, a good-hearted but penniless prostitute. They reward her by gifting her money that enables her to give up her profession and set up her own business. However with people in the town feeding off of her kindness, she finds it impossible to survive and is lent to disguising herself as a man, thus creating her alter ego, Shui Ta. Through following these characters Brecht explores the struggles of the characters living in Szechwan, and how they survive in a capitalist society.
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