The Good Soul Of Szechwan

PHOEBE LUCKHURST overcomes her ADHD to appreciate a big, stylish dollop of Brecht.

Ben Blyth Brecht Corpus Playrooms mainshow The Good Soul of Szechwan Toby Jones toby parker rees

Corpus Playrooms, 15th-19th February, 7pm, £5-6

Directed by Toby Jones


The Good Soul of Szechwan was wildly imaginative and stylistically enacted. A few first night stutters aside, the piece was carried with a taut precision that was well-sustained throughout its two and a half hour run. Two and a half hours is lengthy theatre – I wondered if there might have been a few more unsentimental cuts. But Brecht’s play is long, and too much more shaving would, no doubt, have moderated the play‘s power and coherency.

Toby Jones evinced the social realism in which Brecht’s own dramaturgy was interested.  The original music – by Joe Taylor – provided a soundtrack that rarely imposed upon but always fed the dramatic action. This bold and successful stylistic detail is symptomatic of the precision which characterised the design and direction generally: the set captured the poverty of the Szechwan setting, and props were used variously to represent different locations. Like the music, the set was controlled so as to meet the script’s demands without loading a small space with excessive and distracting clutter.

Photographs by Milla Basma

In Bullingdon apparel which became accordingly dishevelled as they traveled an increasingly secular world, Gods One, Two and Three (Pierre Novellie, James Parris and Lawrence Bowles) were the comedic turns. Each performed their own exaggerated divine caricature – Parris archly camp, Bowles a bumbling Cameron, Novellie the genial father-god – all these were well-conceived and pertinent to their function in Jones’ piece.

Toby Parker-Rees provided pathos as Wang; Jennie King adeptly handled her dual roles as Shen Te and Shui Ta. At first she controlled an amusingly sardonic edge in the former when her pompous latter incarnation was required; as Shen Te falls in love, she managed to perform a sensitive – rather than exaggerated – incarnation of a woman deluded. Her acting was nuanced and stand-out.

Ben Blyth was the sneering, leering villain: dark, discomfiting and febrile. The chorus gave the piece dynamism. Exhaustingly energetic, in the slums they embodied selfish, hard-hearted poverty, injecting the misery of Brecht’s vision into this production; whereas by contrast, in company with the gods they owned much of the comedy of the piece. They were versatile actors used well.

Both acting and direction were accomplished, and although the piece felt overlong considering its largely student (and thus erratic, ADHD-addled) audience, this was a seriously impressive piece of theatre. Every detail was conceived with measure and carried with success; The Good Soul of Szechwan was stylish, clever and professional.