AUB’s The Good Person of Szechwan, a collaborative production from BA (Hons) Acting, BA (Hons) Costume and Performance Design and BA (Hons) Make up for Media and Performance
Brecht’s classic with a modern twist rings the doorbells of our conscience.
It is remarkable how Bertolt Brecht’s ‘The Good Person of Szechwan’ reads almost like the front page of today’s Guardian newspaper. People seeking refuge, increasing poverty, sweatshops and crushing capitalism. Written in 1945, the play follows three gods on their quest to find just one good person on earth, and their search has led them to the mythological, poverty-stricken city of Szechwan. Here they find the poor prostitute Shen Teh, the only inhabitant willing to give shelter to the Gods. They repay her with a generous cash gift, and the play follows Shen Teh’s ruin as she tries to live a moral existence in this corrupt, materialist world.
Director David O’ Shea gracefully drags the play into the modern day through clever touches such as the Chavvy attire of the poor and a teenage pregnancy, which are painfully apt social issues. The descent of the working-class characters into factory workers also reminds us of the persistent sweatshop scandals by corporations such as Primark, Nike and Marks and Spencer. Furthermore, characters that are so desperate for housing and struggling to pay the rent frighteningly resemble the current situation in England and the situation of Middle-Eastern refugees looking for a better life in Europe. Whether this was Brecht’s dystopian conception or a reflection of the world around him in the 1940s, society either hasn’t progressed at all in the last 70 years or we’re living out Brecht’s bleak vision.
The play deals with the ever-present, awkward question of what is good and evil. The struggle to survive in this capitalist machine often overcomes our desires to be good, and Shen Teh is literally split in two when faced with this dilemma. She creates her money-hungry alter-ego Shui Ta, her supposed cousin, to guard her and her finances from the manipulative people of Szechaun. The actors work brilliantly at bringing this little microcosm to life, and Ratidzo Masunda’s portrayal of the antithetic Shen Teh and Shui Ta is utterly convincing through carefully considered mannerisms. David Muir-Jones’ character Shu Fu, the cruel yet generous barber, was also played excellently and entertainingly.
Ultimately, the play remains distressingly relevant seventy years after being published, which makes us wonder what are we doing to solve these social problems? But, at the same time, the delicate issue of how to balance altruism and the need to survive reminds us all the more just how complicated these issues are.
The Good Person of Szechwan is on at the Pavilion Dance Southwest from Thursday 28th – Saturday 30th January 2016. For tickets please go to http://www.pdsw.org.uk/event/book-now/GPS1/Performances.
Full price £10, Concessions £6.