The Good Person of Szechwan

It was just another day in Szechwan with people going about their daily business until three wandering gods in disguise turned up in the city in need of a place to stay while they continued their search for a shining example of honesty among the humans. You might think that for beings traditionally imbued with omniscience it would be an easy task. But this is theatre and more specifically the epic theatre of Bertol Brecht, who set the divine challenge eighty years ago in The Good Person of Szechwan.

Energetically and vividly staged

Nick Blakeley, Callum Coates and Tim Samuels create three contrasting deities and provide some delightful humour as they embark on their search. If they can find this person then the future of humanity is safe, otherwise we are all doomed. With the stakes set so high they are fortunate to bump into Wang, endearingly played with wry humour by Leo Wan. Wang is an impoverished purveyor of water, who knows everyone. He sets about asking if anyone has a room but to his dismay and humiliation he is turned away by them all. Enter Shen Te, (Ami Tredrea) who, as the local prostitute draws on her experience of accommodating visiting men, and reluctantly offers to take them in. Overwhelmed by her generosity and despite her profession the gods announce that she is the only good person they have encountered and after some debate about interfering in economics they decide to give her $1000. With this she rents a tobacco shop.

The news of her wealth spreads rapidly and she is soon beset by an array of locals asking for money to an extent that could destroy her business, but she finds the hard decisions of capitalism to go against her nature. Thus she invents and plays the figure of her fictional cousin Shui Ta behind whose persona she can hide to make all the difficult decisions. Trudeau flits effortlessly between the two roles, while further heightening the comedy. What she can’t do is hide where he is staying and that provokes disputes over references and rent with the landlady Mrs Mi Tzu, eccentrically played with enormous presence by Melody Brown. Now throw in a romance with the mischievous Yang Sun, whom Aidan Cheng turns into an embodiment of the yin/yang opposites, and the scene is set for a carnival of chaos with a multitude of issues emerging throughout.

Despite appeals to the gods, when all is revealed, they are unable to resolve her dilemma of being a good woman whom the system forced to become a bad man. The gods return home and Brecht gives no resolution to her plight, which is a universal paradox. Instead, there is the famous epilogue, in which he throws the ball into the audience’s court explaining that any answer must come from the people themselves in society; it cannot be handed down.

This adaptation by Nina Segal, directed by Anthony Lau at the Lyric Hammersmith Theatre in an ETT and Sheffield Theatres co-production, takes that ending in its stride, devoting energy and fun to expounding the situations in a frenzy of activity. There’s none of the heaviness that might be expected in the German communist’s writing, as scene after scene espouses comedy, cabaret and circus in a fast-paced and vibrant outpouring of satire that often seems well on its way to pantomime via commedia dell’arte. Apparently Segal ‘has never been interested in naturalism’ and this production is testament to her desire to create ‘something accessible and contemporary’.

Strong performances abound on the set by Georgia Lowe, which is entertaining and full of colour in itself. Lighting Designer Jessica Hung Han Yun, Composer DJ Walde and Sound Designer Alexandra Faye Braithwaite have worked imaginatively to create coherent embellishment for the text and support for the directorial style.

It’s a joy to see Brecht’s work so energetically and vividly staged.

Reviews by Richard Beck

Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

Ghosts

★★★
Orange Tree Theatre

She Stoops to Conquer

★★★★★
Alexandra Palace

Treason - the Musical

★★★
Hampstead Theatre

To Have And To Hold

★★★
Roundhouse

Trueman and the Arsonists

★★
The Space

Now Entering Ely, Nevada

★★★★★

Since you’re here…

… we have a small favour to ask. We don't want your money to support a hack's bar bill at Abattoir, but if you have a pound or two spare, we really encourage you to support a good cause. If this review has either helped you discover a gem or avoid a turkey, consider doing some good that will really make a difference.

You can donate to the charity of your choice, but if you're looking for inspiration, there are three charities we really like.

Mama Biashara
Kate Copstick’s charity, Mama Biashara, works with the poorest and most marginalised people in Kenya. They give grants to set up small, sustainable businesses that bring financial independence and security. That five quid you spend on a large glass of House White? They can save someone’s life with that. And the money for a pair of Air Jordans? Will take four women and their fifteen children away from a man who is raping them and into a new life with a moneymaking business for Mum and happiness for the kids.
Donate to Mama Biashara now

Theatre MAD
The Make A Difference Trust fights HIV & AIDS one stage at a time. Their UK and International grant-making strategy is based on five criteria that raise awareness, educate, and provide care and support for the most vulnerable in society. A host of fundraising events, including Bucket Collections, Late Night Cabarets, West End Eurovision, West End Bares and A West End Christmas continue to raise funds for projects both in the UK and Sub-Saharan Africa.
Donate to Theatre MAD now

Acting For Others
Acting for Others provides financial and emotional support to all theatre workers in times of need through the 14 member charities. During the COVID-19 crisis Acting for Others have raised over £1.7m to support theatre workers affected by the pandemic.
Donate to Acting For Others now

Performances

Location

The Blurb

"What is the cost of being good?”

In the hustle and bustle of a modern-day metropolis, it’s a dog-eat-dog world and Shen Te is doing all she can to get by.

When three gods reward her hospitality with a life-changing sum of money, Shen Te opens a tobacco shop and claims the stability she’s always dreamed of. But the struggle is not over yet; she is forced to question the cost of her own survival as she resorts to scheming and deceit to flourish in this capitalist world.

In its 80th anniversary, Brecht’s play is brought up to date in a new version by Nina Segal (In The Night Time (Before The Sun Rises)), directed by Anthony Lau (Sheffield Theatres’ Anna Karenina).

The Good Person of Szechwan has been selected as a best theatre pick for 2023 by The Guardian, Daily Telegraph and The Times.

Most Popular See More

The Lion King

From £35.00

More Info

Find Tickets

The Book of Mormon

From £24.00

More Info

Find Tickets

Moulin Rouge! The Musical

From £30.00

More Info

Find Tickets

SIX

From £39.00

More Info

Find Tickets

Mamma Mia!

From £21.00

More Info

Find Tickets

Wicked

From £30.00

More Info

Find Tickets