Audience held, but production fragile

The Good Woman of Setzuan @ Norwich Playhouse

The Good Woman of Setzuan @ Norwich Playhouse


In Tanika Gupta's free, if not always fluent, translation and in Stephen Powell's National Theatre production, Bertolt Brecht's Good Woman Of Setzuan begins with snatches of Oriental music, some rather drawn out dialogue and a good deal of chaos.

Meticulously organised chaos, of course, but, as the MC says, it gets a bit indulgent.

As the noise level rises like a tidal wave, the action soon leads into rather a lot of talk, not to say metaphysical speculation on the problem of evil that echoes a well-known chapter of the Old Testament.

The triumph of the players is that with this apparently unappealing topic they hold a predominately youthful audience in the hollow of their hands.

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Participation is not just a matter of pedalling for dear life to keep the spotlights blazing; it is also moral engagement and even, thanks to a towering performance and a Paisley accent from the lead, a human response.

While theatrical illusion is shattered, though Aristotle no doubt wept and though Brecht can't always resist the temptation to preach, the great questions still come to the fore. But are they answered?

The ambiguity works well, inviting us to provide our own answers, but from the policeman's somersault to the turning over of the great container at the end, the production offers its own too. “Fragile” upside down is a potent parting symbol.