THE audience at the latest Arts University Bournemouth production had a Brechtian experience at the reconformed Pavilion Dance, but the question has to be whether David O’Shea’s interpretation was more style than substance.
There should be nothing comfortable about the German playwright’s works, which are specifically aimed at suppressing emotional involvement to give the audience a clear view of the universal truths behind his stories. The Good Person of Szechwan is about gods and mortals, good and evil, expectations and reality and this talented cast performed it with a sometimes shambolic gusto.
Brecht’s pieces are long, but at least 30 minutes was wasted here by moving the cumbersome and purposeless elements of the “set” from one end of the acting area to the other. The audience, sitting on uncomfortable wooden seats at either side, was further disconcerted by very colourful projections, with captions that whizzed so rapidly that if you didn’t happen to be looking at the screen at the relevant moment, you missed the information.
And although the director, in his programme notes, stresses that the Szechwan of the title is a mythical place that could be anywhere, the audience is presented with projections of Far Eastern street scenes and characters like Water Seller. So why choose Django Reinhart and Santana for most of the music. More distraction!
This excellent student group has already made indelible impressions, notably in Festen and Bleak House. So there is no doubt as to their acting ability, which shines through in The Good Person.
Especially memorable are Ratidzo Masunda in the central role of Shen Teh and her fabricated cousin Shui Ta, Jake McDaid as the Water Seller, Matt Penson as the cruelly charismatic Yang Sun and Aimee Kember as his mother. Alice Winsor is the impressively knowing Mrs Shin and David Muir-Jones the menacing Shu Fu.
The Good Person of Szechwan is a timeless story, thought-provoking and powerful. And Brecht is always a challenge in performance. But this version went a long way to obfuscate its message, sending the (sadly small) audience out into a wet night much more concerned with the discomfort and length of the evening than the essence of Brecht’s work.