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

German playwright, 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.

Great expectations 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.

The 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 show.

Moira 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.

Kate Herbert

New translation by / Tom Wright
Direction / Meng Jinghui
Cast: Aljin Abella, Moira Finucane, Daniel Frederiksen, Genevieve Giuffre, Bert LaBonté, Emily Milledge, Genevieve Morris, Josh Price, Richard Pyros

Assistant Direction / Felix Ching Ching Ho
Set and Costume / Marg Horwell
Composition and Sound Design / THE SWEATS
Lighting / Richard Vabre

Photos /Pia Johnson


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