Review: The Good Soul Of Szechuan

By John Nathan, May 22, 2008
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The Young Vic, London SE1

Bertolt Brecht wrote from the point of view that people could only be good under socialism — the capitalist alternative pandered to greed. Which is why the three gods in his play find it so difficult to find a worthy person in all of Szechuan. “If enough good people are found who live moral lives, the world can stay as it is,” says one of the divinities. In an awful coincidence, they are looking in the place where the real-life destruction of China’s earthquake is currently being played out. It would seem the play’s gods are much more merciful than the real world’s. They at least bend over backwards to find their good soul in the form of Jane Horrocks’s endearing Shen Te, a reluctant hooker with a heart of gold.

Part of this evening’s success is down to Miriam Buether’s strange design which clads the auditorium in plywood panelling, and directs the audience to their seats via a factory where exploited workers carry heavy sacks. But what saves Brecht from being dated is that Richard Jones’s production and David Harrower’s translation move the author into a modern context where socialism need not be the implied panacea to make the point about capitalism’s downside. (Tel: 020 7922 2922)

    Last updated: 11:48am, May 27 2008