The Good Person of Szechuan heads to China

27 October 2014

Now running amok in China are the cast and crew of The Good Person of Szechuan.

The show is the product of Season 2014's International Director Exchange, for which Meng Jinghui came to Melbourne to work with a largely Australian team to create Brecht's epic for the Merlyn Theatre. 

The slideshow below shows the bump in at the National Theatre of China, Beijing, for an opening on 29 October. After that it continues to the Shanghai International Art Festival on 4 November. (Learn more about Malthouse Theatre tours here.)  

READ: 'Malthouse Theatre crosses borders', Herald Sun, 31 October 2014

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The adaptor of Brecht's original text, Tom Wright, told us about this monolithic process that took him half way around the world and back.


From English to Mandarin and back again. 

In 1938 when Bertolt Brecht (in close collaboration with Ruth Berlau and Margarete Steffin) began writing Der gute Mensch von Sezuan it was clear the world was plummeting into another paroxysm of self-destruction. Four years later, during perhaps the darkest and most pessimistic hours of the war, he returned to the script, shortening it into a more concise morality play of naive goodness in the face of all-encompassing badness. This production is based on the later, harder version, with its introduction of heroin and telescopingin on a smaller company of characters – but leaving intact the odd, sudden ending, a sort of anti-deus ex machina.

The first draft of this translation from German into English was then retranslated into Mandarin for Meng to absorb; with his observations in mind a second draft was then prepared, which was then again translated. The rehearsal process has been a fascinating fortnight of controlled chaos and anarchic creation, all mediated through a constant buzz of translation from English to Mandarin and back again. After a while, the room became a galerie des glaces of the three languages reflecting and refracting each other, creating the strange world of ‘Szechuan’; not a real place, a nightmare city somewhere in the space between Melbourne, Beijing, Berlin, and by extension Mosul, Donetsk, Aleppo, Kandahar, Santa Monica... 

Underneath the depiction of a corrupt, insane, raucous, modern city sits a simple fable of a woman whose instincts are ‘good’ and so leaves herself open to exploitation by the venal and opportunistic. (That she needs to become a ‘man’ in order to find a new form of ‘goodness’ invited a multitude of new readings of course.) Under Meng’s guidance we’ve tried to make what he has called a ‘rubbish world’ – where a few important questions are asked in all the noise.

Tom Wright / Adaptor