The Good Person of Sichuan (Colchester)

This new version of Brecht’s play at the Mercury Theatre is “an elaborate, modern-dress affair”, says Anne Morley-Priestman.

Sue Vincent & Tanya Franks
Sue Vincent & Tanya Franks
© Robert Day

The thesis underpinning Brecht's The Good Person of Sichuan is that personal goodness cannot bring universal happiness. Nikolai Foster's new production of the Michael Hofmann translation is an elaborate, modern-dress affair, which from time to time swamps the actors.

Designer takis uses all the levels of the Mercury Theatre stage to create a three-tiered acting area with some entrances and exits through the auditorium. It's impressive to watch, with some excellent lighting effects by James Whiteside but overwhelming noisy sound background by Sebastian Frost; most of Grant Olding's songs had their words completely submerged.

As the central character, the prostitute Shen Te, Tanya Franks gives an excellent performance as the woman who offers hospitality to three visiting gods, is rewarded by them and seeks to repay her good fortune by helping others – with disastrous results. She's equally good as the tough male cousin Shui Ta, invented by Shen Te as her protector.

Jake Davies is the water-seller Wang, who first guides the gods to Shen Te; it's a nice study of a street-wise boy who has had to grow up fast. The unemployed airman Yang Sun, with whom Shen Te falls in love, is played by Gary Shelford as a thoroughly selfish being; you wonder what she could see in him.

As Mrs Shin, from whom Shen Te buys the shop which she hopes will bring her prosperity which she can then share with others, Sue Vincent offers a portrait of buttoned-up ruthlessness. The three ultimately frustrated immortals are Dominic Gately, Mitesh Soni and Mike Burnside; they also play more earthly roles.