The Good Person of Schezwan
Some Thoughts on Theatre in a Cost of Living Crisis
I’ve closed all my social media tabs. They are full of outrage. Some justified, some manufactured – but who can tell anymore?
It gets me nowhere reading on and on about this and that. I’m no better informed. I’m no more capable of making a good decision. I’m not likely to change anyone else’s opinion. I’m just able to write a pithy tweet or a soppy platitude. Nothing changes. Outrage builds.
I went to the theatre this weekend. It was a solo trip. Part of my artist’s date regime. (An artist date was invented by Julia Cameron. A weekly treat for you and your inner artist, to spark creativity and inspiration).
I went to see an adaptation of Brecht’s Good Person of Schezwan. It’s a new translation and production at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield. The production is infused with Brechtian techniques. It is designed so that we know it is theatre. Brecht wants us to know we are in a theatre and not really in a market place in Schezwan. He wants us to engage with our intellect over our emotions.
The show starts with physical comedy, the lights coming down when the narrator/clown connects a plug on stage. This is theatre. It is going to pose you the question – how to be a good person in a bad context. It is about love and capitalism, the limits of freedom, the grind and the poetry.
The staging is whimsical. Actors enter on a large slide. They sing and dance. The Gods arrive in classical garb and tell us they are looking for a good person – kind and generous, but not too generous. Over-generosity is vulnerability.
And the plot unfolds. We know it is theatre. A woman becomes a man by a moustache and tennis balls in her pants. She falls in love. It is a transaction. She does not have the freedom to fall in love for love’s sake. The system does not allow it.
Being too generous is weak. Being exploitative is capitalism. And those, it appears, are the choices.
The play ends. Can we been good in a bad system? Go away and think about it. Seriously, go home, the play has ended. (Brecht again with his Verfremdungseffekt – alienation effect)
An epilogue asks for compassion which cannot be found in the search for purity of ideology – any ideology.
It cost me £33 to see this. That’s a lot of money. Universal Credit is £509.91 a month. So people who can see this are not on benefits. I understand the price. There is a cast, crew, musicians, front of house, box-office, cleaning staff, PR and marketing, writers and translators to pay for. They all deserve a decent wage. They gave me a bold, quirky, inventive telling of a story.
But at that price can they only preach to the converted? Is theatre just for the elite?
Or could we subsidise the ticket? Why not give everyone bread and roses? I went to a matinee show. Had I gone to an evening show, it would not have been possible to walk through Sheffield City Centre without seeing homelessness.
Outrage gets me nowhere.
Be compassionate. But not too compassionate because forgiveness is a limited resource and unequally distributed. I don’t forgive the politicians who have asset-stripped the UK. I don’t forgive the government minister who mocked Angela Rayner, an MP with a working class background, for attending the opera. Laying bare the idea that culture is not for some.
I loved this show. And whilst Brecht asks for our rational response, after a couple of years without live performance, seeing well-crafted theatre makes me emotional. I have missed it so much. This was a great way to remind myself of the joys of theatre. I mean, people came onto the stage via a giant slide. That’s enough to make anyone smile.
I should probably go on social media and let people know. There’s less than a week to go to see it. And you should - if you can afford it.
About the Creator
Writer-Performer based in the North of England. A joyous, flawed mess.
Please read my stories and enjoy. And if you can, please leave a tip. Money raised will be used towards funding a one-woman story-telling, comedy show.
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