REVIEW: THE GOOD PERSON OF SZECHWAN (Barons Court Theatre) ★★

good-woman

An undisputed staple in the contemporary theatre repertoire, the works of Bertolt Brecht have endured the last 70 or so years due to their timeless themes and exploration of moral relativism and social construct. The Good Person of Szechwan forces us to question what actually makes someone a ‘good person’ and explores the delicate balance between helping others and sustaining ourselves. Sadly, KDC Theatre’s doesn’t quite hit the mark, falling short of delivering the forceful political punches that this show requires.

Wang, a water seller from Szechwan, informs us that three illustrious gods are on their way to the province and will need a place to rest after their long journey. After several failed endeavours, Wang, with desperation, persuades a local prostitute named Shen Teh to take them in. Impressed by her innate altruism, the gods deem humanity worthy and gift her a modest fortune. However, Shen Teh’s neighbours quickly abuse her good nature and drain her of all resources. Buckling under the strain of her many demanding houseguests and the numerous loans she unflinchingly donates, Shen Teh regretfully takes matters into her own hands and turns the tables on her abusers.

The plot and themes laid out by Brecht in The Good Person of Szechwan are of course still present in this production as the original script has been more or less kept intact. However their potency and rousing messages are somewhat diluted. Brigitte Adela’s decision to include minimal costumes and set is in keeping with the play’s purpose and allows us to focus not on the aesthetic of the piece but the words and messages put to us. Overall, however, the performance appears unprepared. There are many instances of stumbling through lines or speaking so quietly that the audience cannot follow the plot, even though the space is small and intimate. There are also an unforgivable number of times where ‘Szechwan’ is mispronounced as ‘Shesswan’.

Throughout the play, both Bernard Brennan and Pippa Gibb strive valiantly to kick-start the momentum but unfortunately the overall pace remains lethargic; bogged down by lengthy transitions between scenes and unnecessary costume changes. Having each of the actors perform multiple roles works well and allows them to display their talents and the decision to have the audience on three sides provides us with an uncompromised view of Shen Teh’s dilemma. There are brief spikes of humour dotted throughout the story which briefly perk up the audience but the atmosphere is ultimately sluggish.

The Good Person of Szechwan is an ambitious choice for any theatre company. KDC Theatre’s cast adheres well to Brecht’s love for caricature but there is something missing in the focus and physical precision needed to drive home his political messages. A slicker, more animated rendition with particular appreciation for the playwright’s sense of humour would keep the audience engaged throughout.

Reviewed by Alex Foott