Posts Tagged ‘the good soul of szechuan’

Review of “The Good Soul of Szechuan” with Jane Horrocks – Young Vic

May 13, 2008

Last night Wechsler and I headed to the Young Vic to catch Jane Horrocks in “The Good Soul of Szechuan” at the Young Vic. Beforehand we went to the Bangalore Express, which is my new pre-Vic (young or old) dinner joint; it’s right across from Waterloo and thus easy access from work or home, and they got the food on my table in about five minutes flat after I ordered – “no muss, no fuss,” as they used to say. Their prices are great and they serve duck.

But really, this is about the play, right? Well sated and sufficiently caffeinated to overcome my post-Florida jet lag for the duration of the night, we joined the long, long queue in front of the Young Vic only to discover the savvier Whingers had set themselves up at a bar down the street (their review of the evening, I mean play, here). I briefly joined them (else we would not have been able to enter the theater!) then returned to wait in line for another five minutes or so. Eventually we traipsed in the long (and scene-setting) way, then scored ideal seat about eight rows back. The dust in the air from the set nearly cost me at the outset (and if you’re asthmatic I suggest you highly consider skipping this show), but it settled enough for him to enjoy the rest of the show (despite the smoking).

Sooooo … the play. This is Brecht, right? And you know about Brecht. It’s like Shakespeare; if you don’t want multiple plots and soliloquies and strange words, don’t go. For Brecht, well, he’s got a message: people are basically good, but this society of want in which we live keeps them down and makes them do bad thing. If people just had a little more to eat, so many problems would go away! Creating plays with character “evolution” or, really, introspection isn’t really Brecht’s way. He’s going to put his flat characters on stage and make them dance, and, if you’re like me, you’ll find it generally amusing, except for the singing bit (why do they always having singing in Brecht shows? It’s never any good). I mean, it’s a morality play, basically, sometimes with gangsters, sometimes with ….

Three gods come to a small village in Szechuan (which no one apparently knows how to pronounce, despite living there), looking for a good soul. Inadvertently, they come upon Jane Horrocks (looking twenty years younger than she did in the wretched and unfunny Absurd Person Singular), playing the part of a really pretty prostitute. They give her a pile of money … and now that she’s got something, instead of nothing, her life REALLY starts to fall apart, because, well, when you’ve got nothing, people can’t get much from you, but when you’ve got something, everyone wants to get their piece.

Or, well, so Brecht posits, or perhaps he’s saying that money is just corrupting and the poor can’t win. He gets in his digs at pious capitalists (as embodied by the gods) and other people that do their best to make the lot of the poor worse while supposedly uplifting them (some things do never change). Me, well, I loved Horrock’s charming turn as the two-natured Shen Tay (perhaps really Shen Tai), and found her just as adorable in her little cheap dress as in a suit and fedora (rar!). I also found the boyfriend just as convincing playing a miserable clod who wanted to die as a lying man who wanted to take her for all she was worth – it’s funny how those words can come out of the same person’s mouth and yet still sound like the truth – when not delivered by actors! While other member of the party were finding the script just too cartoony to be managable, I found myself instead nodding along with Horrocks as she looked into the audience and said (of her boyfriend), “He is a bad man! He only wants me for what he can get from me!” And I was also sucked in as she decided to not hate him. It takes really good actors to take this stuff and make it mean something, and I bought it. It’s a good production – but remember, if you don’t like Brecht, there’s probably not much that will change your mind. (That said …. if only they’d really let her sing! What is the next show she is going to be in? Something with songs that don’t make me want to clap my hands over my ears?)

(This review is for a performance that took place Monday, May 12, 2008.)