Review: Bertolt Brecht’s The Good Soul of Szechuan in 2022- Magnet Theatre’s- featuring its Fulltime Training & Job Creation Programme – joy – transcending beyond fear
|What: The Good Soul of Szechuan, by Bertolt Brecht, translated by David Harrower|
When: June 16 to 24, 2022
Where: Magnet Theatre, Corner of Lower Main and St Michael’s Roads, Observatory, Cape Town
Tickets: R100 general admission. Concessions for scholars, students, seniors and block bookings at R50.
Bookings at Webtickets www.webtickets.co.za
Featuring: The sixth cohort of Magnet Theatre’s Fulltime Training & Job Creation Programme
Directors: Mark Fleishman and Qondiswa James – in collaboration with Neo Muyanga and Magnet Theatre’s graduating class of 2022
Creative credits: https://thecaperobyn.co.za/preview-the-good-soul-of-szechuan-by-bertolt-brecht-presented-by-magnet-theatres-fulltime-training-job-creation-programme/
Being good in a world where bad people trounce us? Is that possible? Bertolt Brecht is saying: Yes. It makes us human to be “good”, to keep going, even when it seems hopeless. The moments of joy – no matter how fleeting – make it worth it. The 1st performance of the play was in 1944 (some say 1943- cannot verify which is correct) – in a world of chaos and despair. Here we are with the complex story- staged by Magnet Theatre -in 2022 – in world of chaos or despair. The play was first published in English, as The Good Woman of Szechuan from the German; Brecht’s Der gute Mensch von Sezuan. David Harrower’s translation, The Good Soul of Szechuan, premiered in June 2008 at the Young Vic in London and is slightly shorter than the original English translation. Magnet Theatre, Cape Town is staging the Harrower version, performed by Magnet’s 6th cohort of its full time training programme. Yes, it is a student production and it is astonishing. Direction is by Mark Fleishman and Qondiswa James – in collaboration with Neo Muyanga and Magnet graduating class of 2022.
Looking at the original German – gute Mensch- the word, gute, conjures up for me quality or decency- rather than a binary – good vs bad. The central protgaonist – the good soul- is a flawed indivdual. She know this and with everything that happens to her, she strives to be decent and kind- rather than a binary good– which is impossible. I think that directors and the team, have imbued this production with huge empathy, pathos and humour which makes the play intensely relatable. It is my first viewing of the play, on stage. In reviews of other productions, I get the impression that the parable aspect of the story- three gods seeking a decent person- has become stylized which elicits a vibe- into non-reality. Magnet’s production is remarkable in tendering it as a story of now – not allegory of fairy/horror tales. Consider the line by the good soul of Szechuan: “There’s a child here, from tomorrow, asking for water for today…” Read that line again – stark, reality but so beautifully conveyed by Brecht and transfigured on stage by the young company.
The songs, composed by Neo Muyanga took my breath away. Ponder the song, with the title: The Song St Never Come’s Day. It’s Brecht’s words but Muyanga’s score has amplified and intensified the sense of being flummoxed and frustrated by everything but trying to keep going – by singing and being joyful- by transcending time and place. The music and song is elegiac, uplifting and rousing. I would love see this production, being developed into an opera. With all of the fear, and singing through the panic, there is tremendous mirth in the narrative and the company teases out the laugh lines for their release ad relief – and ours. Fleishman notes in the programme, that for Brecht, “despite his association with the idea of political theatre with a utilitarian function”, he “believed that theatre should in the first instance be entertaining.” With brilliant timing, physical theatre, clowning/masks and chorus work, the company elicits laughter (often comfortable, sure) from the audience. It is a long play but what a journey this is- totally worth it – as one becomes immersed in the story. Extraordinary acting, characterization, song, movement, lighting (Mark Fleishman and Themba Stewart). The set (Lungile Cindi) is home, runway, gangplank- emblematic of the decent soul “caught between joy and fear”. Until July 24, 20222. Do not miss.
✳ Featured image: Nosiphiwo Ndabeni, Mihlali Bele in, The Good Soul of Szechuan [June 2022], staged by Magnet Theatre, Cape Town, featuring the 6th cohort of Magnet’s Fulltime Training & Job Creation Programme. Photo: Terra Nzimande.