Review of ‘The Good Person of Szechwan’: “Let’s reinvent the classics”

Bertolt Brecht’s classic lands at the Lyric Hammersmith in this new production featuring reimagined visuals and a modernized interpretation. Guillermo Nazara gives us his thoughts on this play with songs exploring the contradictions of society’s morals, to let us know if the show makes any good.

You’re so good that you’re stupid. No, I don’t mean you, who’s reading this. I’m positive that you’re not good… But seriously, however sad it may sound, it’s true that one just can’t (and mustn’t) be too nice if they want to survive. Brecht’s 40s political drama appears to never grow old, as precisely in a time when the quality of living seems to be a stake, the Lyric Hammersmith is hosting a new production of this epic theatre classic dealing with how many immoral (and even illegal) things a person is capable of doing just to cope with some dignity.

The premise is not only interesting, but seductive. We’ve all been in that situation at some point of another – well, except the ones who were born natural SOBs, that is (any hands to be raised?). Just as the main character Shen Teh, we often see ourselves trapped with the tricky decision of either doing the correct thing or what would benefit us Many times, it’s not the same. But is it so bad to choose for your own sake? Well, that could be the definition of a nice person – if they actually exist.

All of these questions are raised within a 2-hour farcical journey of surrealist insanity: a group of gods looking for hosting until they find the plain good-hearted messiah that shall save the world, a bunch of blood-sucking vultures (they worst breed: human) that would try to take as much advantage as they could, and a young lady creating an alter-ego to climb the financial ladder – regardless of how much harm she can cause by doing so. It’s bonkers, but Brecht’s text does provide us with a clear statement of what his vision of mankind is – so explicitly, though, that you can’t help but feeling a bit too much preached upon.

Its humour still works, nonetheless – the absurdity of its scenarios triggering several genuine laughs that make the narration more enjoyable, but sadly, the overall pacing never manages to maintain the appeal of the piece. The efforts to achieve it are laudable: it includes a repertoire of pop songs commenting on the nonsense the characters are experiencing and the stage design is attractive, symbolic and transporting. But unfortunately, this does not prevent from the fact that the plot feels jammed with too many lines while, at the same time, its rhythm beats quite slowly.

Directed by Anthony Lau, the cast’s performances are in fact a saviour to the work, all of them delivering their parts with grace, naturality and comedic ability. The whole troupe works flawlessly altogether and their chemistry is undeniable, but the characters do not have the essence to make us care for us as much as we should. Perhaps because, though Brecht’s writing aligns with what we’re living nowadays more than ever, we’ve already come to terms with his conclusion far earlier.

As a new take on a difficult classic, there’s in fact much praise to be given to a team that’s clearly put their souls into making it function. It’s an experiment, just as Brecht’s productions were – and as so, it deserves some fair recognition. Nonetheless, sometimes the purity of the material (though this one has been revised) may not come that much in handy – and perhaps an full re-adaptation of the original piece (storyline details included) may have been the right path to follow. Its philosophy is still transcendent, they just need to make it soar.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

The Good Person of Szechwan plays at London’s Lyric Hammersmith until 13 May. Tickets are available on the following link.

By Guillermo Nazara

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