Avant-garde director Meng Jinghui’s production of The Good Person of Szechuan is not something you often see in Australia. The play by a Chinese director that addresses Chinese concerns is somewhat telling of the new found cultural capital of Chinese artists in the west.
With a Chinese perspective, Meng confidently reclaims the Bertolt Brecht play and shows it as contemporary and brutally relevant in 21st century China.
Szechuan and the surrounding provinces are a dystopian world of greed, crime and corruption, where even the Gods struggle to find a ‘good person’. Meng explores the relegation of religion and the question of its continued relevance in an individualistic society where the immoral get ahead.
He takes aim at blindly individualistic capitalism, the business like transactions of family arranged marriages and a general disregard for women’s values in Chinese culture.
One gets the feeling it’s the kind of play Meng might have had some issues putting on back home. The farce-like court scene where a prominent businessperson comes to the defendant’s aid by declaring the positive financial investments brought into the community, set against a deep red backdrop is hardly a subtle image.
An Australian audience engaging in what in contemporary Chinese theatre is what makes so the show so unique in a western context. The cultural mix of the white actors with Chinese names is initially jarring, while the plays mix of white and people of colour actors gives it an interesting air.
The set design is fantastic and creates beautiful imagery and while the direction of the play at times feels messy, a powerful message still comes across.
Last month in an interview with The Australian, Meng said that he had little interested in Brecht’s theories but was instead in exploring alienation in a new China where millions have been left out of the economic growth of the country.
He went on to use a Chinese saying to criticise Brecht’s limited scope and misunderstanding of Chinese theatre, “When you open the door you can only see what’s in front but you imagine you can see much more.” Meng opens that door all the way and leaves it ajar.
The Good Person of Szechuan, by the Malthouse Theatre and the National Theatre of China is at the Merlyn Theatre form July 3 till July 20.
Tickets: $30-$60. Bookings: (03) 9685 5111 or online at Malthouse Theatre.