Kate Herbert is theatre reviewer, Herald Sun, Melbourne & formerly for Melbourne Times. Kate is a director & produced playwright (20 plays). Scripts published by Currency Press. She worked as an actor, comedian, improviser & teacher of Acting, Improvisation & Playwriting. Kate is currently Convenor of Professional Writing & Editing, Swinburne University. Read her reviews here or at: www.heraldsun.com.au/entertainment/arts. NB Explorer Browser doesn't always work on blog.
Sunday, 29 June 2014
The Good Person of Szechuan, July 2, 2014 **
By Bertolt Brecht, translated by Tom Wright, by Malthouse Theatre Merlyn Theatre, Malthouse, July 2-20, 2014 Reviewer: Kate Herbert Stars: ** Full review also published online on July 14 and in print in Herald Sun. KH
Bertolt Brecht, wanted audiences to leave his plays feeling ready to change the
world, but I left The Good Person of Szechuan wanting to bark at traffic.
That may sound like an
odd and confusing response but wait until you see Chinese director, Meng
Jinghui’s rather addled production of Brecht’s play.
preceded Jinghui’s arrival as he is regarded as an innovative director in
China. But, despite the talented cast desperately trying to make it work, the disparate components fail to make a
coherent whole and it is ultimately chaotic, shambolic, outmoded and unsatisfying.
Brecht wrote political
parables that challenged the audience to think about corruption, greed and the
absolute power of tyranny, and Good Person is one such play.
When three gods
(Genevieve Morris, Genevieve Giuffre, Emily Milledge) come to earth to judge
the morality of humanity, they enlist the help of the water carrier, Wang
(Richard Pyros), to find one good person, a nigh impossible task in the
mean-spirited town of Szechuan.
Wang finds only one such
person, Shen Te (Moira Finucane),
a prostitute with a generous spirit. However, when the gods reward her with
money to start a tobacco shop, Shen Te discovers that wealth attracts cheats,
spongers and thieves.
characters are probably intended to be incisive parodies of cruel and ignorant
citizens but, instead of being compelling, evocative, grotesque clowns, they
are annoying, shouty caricatures.
Tom Wright’s script
adaptation has merit and it could engage the mind and excite the senses, but
the moral issues and political critique are diminished by juvenile stage action
that includes food fights,
masturbation, drug dealing, bottom-flashing and characters literally blowing
smoke up each other’s behinds.
It is a sin against
theatre to make talented performers look ordinary, but no actor shines in this
Finucane is miscast as the naive Shen Te, but we see glimpses of Finucane’s
quirky, burlesque grotesquery when she transforms into the hard-nosed
businessman, Shui Ta, Shen Te’s male alter ego.
Daniel Frederiksen draws
the eye and makes sense of dialogue and character when he finally enters as
Shen Te’s manipulative lover, Yang Sun.
Other gifted actors are
sadly under-utilised, especially Bert LaBonté, a consummate singer who sings only
4 bars late in the play, leaving us crying for more.
Sustaining us through the
messy, unfocussed and inarticulate production are occasional comical cameos, such
as Morris’s bolshy servant, Giuffre’s Italian granny, Josh Price’s gangly
carpenter, Aljin Abella’s dancing cripple and LaBonté’s blokey copper.
The music by The Sweats has
a couple of high points, but it is repetitive and the songs would be
incomprehensible without the surtitled lyrics.
The Good Person of
Szechuan is disappointingly unformed and unfinished, and does not illuminate Brecht’s story about corruption and greed.
translation by / Tom Wright
/ Meng Jinghui
Abella, Moira Finucane, Daniel Frederiksen, Genevieve Giuffre, Bert
LaBonté, Emily Milledge, Genevieve Morris, Josh Price, Richard Pyros