BWW Review: THE GOOD PERSON OF SZECHWAN, Barbican Centre
A hail of cigarette boxes, bicycles, jazz, and divine intervention. Moscow Pushkin Drama Theatre's The Good Person of Szechwan, at the Barbican Centre, is unpredictable, intense, and cathartic - like a drug intervention. (One where cigarette boxes fall from the ceiling.)
Brecht's text, though much-lauded, is easier read than watched, and, by my reckoning, not that easy to read. At over 100 pages in some translations, most productions approach or pass the dreaded three-hour mark. And there isn't much to be learned: Brecht was a genius, to be sure, but his genius was artistic, not political.
I might get hate mail for writing this, but Brecht's entire politic (think pre-critical theory socialism), from the 1930s, might be covered today in a single undergraduate lecture. If you've had an education of any kind, you aren't likely to learn much about the world from The Good Person, in which the moral fibre of a kind prostitute, Shen Teh (Alexandra Ursulyak, incandescent), is tested by the demands of everyday life, and the compatibility of goodness and capitalism is called into question.
But you don't go to the theatre to learn, do you? I go to think, and to feel. And this production of The Good Person is explosive in its emotionality. The love story between Shen Teh and the pilot Yang Sun takes centre stage. It is announced by unconventional staging - more humour, and more physical humour, than you would expect - and an eclectic, jazzy, poppy, rock-ish new score.
The marriage between the staging, the set - which makes the world feel vast, and the people small - and the music adds a layer of storytelling that both complements and surpasses the source material. It is a story on top of a story, inside of a story, next to a story, weaving in and out of story on a bicycle, raining down on a story from the heavens, screaming up at a story from the ground.
It is rather intense.