Review: The Good Soul of Szechwan

Simon Pickstone 24 February 2011

The Good Soul of Szechwan

Corpus Playrooms

“This play is very long” warned the preamble. It was perhaps too long for some members of the audience, as the numerous empty seats in the second half attested. Yet the Fletcher Players’ production handled a protracted plot with a deftness of touch and even, thank heavens, a smattering of humour that ensured the rewards for those who struggled on to the end were well worth the discomfort.

A discussion of the possibilities for moral action in an essentially amoral world, Brecht’s play is particularly appropriate in these post-recession times, given his radical left-wing ideology. Rewarded by the gods for taking them in for the night, prostitute Shen Te, brilliantly played by Jennie King, buys a tobacco shop but struggles against the conflicting demands of morality and economic necessity. Her wonderful line “How can I be good when everything is so expensive?” must have resonated for all those in the audience who had ever shopped at Sainsbury’s.

Pierre Novellie, James Parris and Lawrence Bowles as the three suited gods, top hats in tow, gave another excellent performance. On a quest to find one truly moral person, but ever more downtrodden with each appearance, their dandyish menace had more than a little resemblance to the members of one now infamous Oxford dining club. It certainly opened up the possibility of taking their obliviously unattainable moral stipulations into a more explicitly political sphere.

The production did what it could to try and liven up the play in true Brechtian style, which saw The Cambridge Student’s very own theatre editor hauled down to the stage to participate in a trial, and various members of the cast sitting among the audience making snide comments. (Toby Jones’) nicely cutting closing address to the audience got the balance just right between a detached irony and an awareness of the gravity of the play’s central conflict.

The quality of the musical accompaniment, provided Joe Tayor, was admittedly more variable, but when it did work, for example with King’s solo early in the second half, it was very effective. Aside from the occasional stumble there was little to fault this production; long though it undoubtedly was, The Good Soul proved to be both thought-provoking and entertaining.

Simon Pickstone