The Good Person of Szechwan – Lyric Hammersmith review

Image above: Ami Tredrea and Jon Chew in The Good Person of Szechwan at the Lyric Hammersmith Theatre; Manuel Harlan

The Good Person of Szechwan – There’s fun to be had

Review by Simon Thomsett

Bertolt Brecht’s The Good Person of Szechwan is the subject of a lively updating by Nina Segal at the Lyric Hammersmith and runs until 13 May.

Three Gods are strolling around Earth, having a look at the human race to try and determine if there is any good in the world.  By the time they reach Szechwan in China, their patience is wearing thin, (“it’s awful everywhere on Earth”), mankind has been found wanting and their inclination is to just order up the apocalypse and be done with it.  When sex worker Shen Te rather reluctantly offers them accommodation for the night, losing out on business while doing so, they wonder whether they have at last discovered in this gesture a glimmer of goodness.  Rewarding her with $1,000, she buys a tobacco shop in an effort to run a legitimate business, a rather less obviously ethical choice nowadays but faithfully retained from the original albeit with a wink to the audience.

What follows demonstrates Shen Te’s struggles to live a good life, summed up in the line: “Life’s a test that there’s no way to pass”.

Image above: Callum Coates, Nick Blakeley and Tim Samuels in The Good Person of Szechwan; Manuel Harlan 

There’s a lot to like about this show.  The 12 strong cast work well as an ensemble, doubling up in many cases and keeping the pace up.  Ami Tredrea is impressive as Shen Te, moving from living a hard life but one where she is coping into trying to please everyone as she runs a business and bring some kindness to a harsh and unforgiving world and increasingly giving up and just looking out for herself.  Nick Blakeley, Callum Coates and Tim Samuels have a lot of fun as the Gods, full of celestial pomp but underneath it all, a little inept and unable to avoid being hungry or getting sunburnt.

Georgia Lowe’s design is clever, with two steep slopes on either side of the stage from which characters are required to come and go, resulting in a lot of sliding entrances and only-just-made-it exits.  Jessica Hung Han Yun’s vivid lighting design is beautifully integrated into it all and rounding the look off, the costumes too are dazzling.

Image above: Leo Wan and Ami Tredrea in The Good Person of Szechwan; Manuel Harlan

It’s not subtle, and in true Brechtian style, emotional engagement is not the point.  Director Anthony Lau brings it all together and, whilst letting the anti-capitalist theme sit front and centre, particularly in the second half, throws in enough fun to hold our attention and keep us (yes) entertained.  Some of it works less well than the rest: the Gods amusement arcade inspired ascension isn’t half as funny as it might have seemed in rehearsal and there is a feeling of throwing everything into the mix: a giant frog pops up to no obvious purpose; a gimp suited client of Shen Te’s from the beginning reappears later, possibly just to get maximum value out of the costume.

Brecht purists may find it all a bit too much but for everyone else there’s fun to be had.

Simon Thomsett