Taking as its theme the conflict between goodness and the acquisition of wealth, the play concerns a young prostitute named Shen Te (Horrocks), who is financially rewarded by three gods for her display of kindness towards them. Using their reward to set up a tobacco shop, she soon finds the only way to survive the onslaught of scroungers is to adopt a male alter-ego, Shui-Ta, who can make the brutal decisions required for her survival.
Although not amongst Brecht’s most commonly performed plays, The Good Soul of Szechuan discordant songs and Marxist ideology are typical of his ‘epic theatre’ works. Its run at the Young Vic is the first major London outing since Deborah Warner's 1989 National Theatre production.
Lead actress Jane Horrocks was most recently seen in the West End production of Absurd Person Singular, and past credits include Little Voice (on stage and screen), Mike Leigh’s Life Is Sweet, and her career-making turn as Bubble in the BBC’s Absolutely Fabulous. The cast also includes Steven Beard, Linda Dobell, Gareth Farr, John Marquez, Sam O’Mahony-Adams, David Osmond, Susan Porrett, Sophie Russell, Liza Sadovy and Tom Silburn. Richard Jones directs.
While most first night critics expressed admiration for Jones’ “wildly inventive” production of The Good Soul of Szechuan and the performances from the cast, several had doubts about the play itself. Designer Miriam Buether's “epic” set, which transforms the Young Vic into a cement factory, drew particular plaudits, as did Jane Horrocks’ “poignantly divided” portrayal of Shen Te/Shui-Ta. But most critics remained ultimately bored by Brecht’s “dry-as-dust debate”, which one wrote off as “intolerably preachy and intellectually dishonest”.
- by Theo Bosanquet