Wednesday, 4 November 2009

The Good Soul of Szechuan – The Library Theatre, Manchester

The Good Soul of Szechuan
Writer: Bertolt Brecht
Adaptor: David Harrower
Director: Chris Honer
Reviewer: John Roberts

The Library Theatre over the past decade has gained a name for itself in carving out excellent and well thought out productions of some of Brecht’s most classic plays, and so in 2009 it is time for The Good Soul of Szechuan to take its place on the intimate and perfectly formed Library Theatre stage.

Set in the Szechuan province of China, three God’s descend on the town to find someone who really does have a good soul, and thus restore the God’s faith in the human race. Whilst searching the province with the help of the local water seller the God’s find a night’s lodgings with local prostitute Shen Te and for her hospitality she is rewarded with enough money to buy a Tobacco shop. Shen Te’s good nature is put to the test by the locals and finds herself being taken advantage off, not wanting this to happen she invents a cousin Shui Ta to take control and bring a sense of normality back to the land, but this doesn’t run as smoothly as one would hope and she is faced with several voices of opposition and attack from more than one side.

Brecht is never an easy playwright to understand and grapple with, we are usually forced to watch a production that asks more questions about those watching the piece than are usually answered in the play itself. Naturalistic characters are pushed aside for a more stylised and stereotypical approach so as we alienate ourselves from any emotional pull of the characters, so we can stay neutral and observe and make our own minds up on the moral outcome of the piece.This production uses a new translation by David Harrower, which was premiered last year at The Young Vic in London, although it loses some of the intricacies and lyrical nature of Brecht’s original it still carries the same strong message and morals, which seem timely and relevant to the society of today

So with all these factors to consider, does this latest production by the Library Theatre’s artistic director tick all the right boxes, in most cases the answer is a well rounded yes, it may not be a production that breaks boundaries and it certainly isn’t a production that I will rave about in years to come, but it provides an evening’s worth of entertainment and a talented cast to watch.

The strongest point of this production is the set designed by Michael Pavelka, who’s red and grey corrugated metal village, really gets across the poverty of Szechuan with an almost timeless apocalyptic feel. The set also looks atmospherically eerie when lit by the fantastic design by Nick Richings.

Cornelius Macarthy as Wang the water seller is in excellent form throughout gaining a good rapport and connection with the audience throughout. Kieran Hill is admirable in his portrayal of Yang Sun, the broke pilot who will do anything to get the money to get a job in Beijing. Olwyn May, Natasha Bain and John Cummins work well as a small tight knitted ensemble of the three God’s but the stand- out performances of the evening come from Susan Twist (Mrs Shin/Old Prostitute) and James Foster(Carpenter/Mr Shu Fu), who slip perfectly into the over the top and slightly grotesque performances required to bring the much needed humour to the production.

However the production is let down by Poppy Miller as the lead characters of Shen Te/Shui Ta, she never really looks comfortable on the stage and her performance is so disjointed and almost monotonous that it never feels fully complete or as thought out as the rest of the cast. Honer’s direction is clear and concise throughout however the pace of the production felt at times overly laboured and lagging and could really do with some sharp adjustments to bring the running time into a production that runs under two hours.

Photos: Gerry Murray
Runs until Sat 28th Nov
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