Theatre review: The good Soul of Szechuan, Q Theatre

By Paul Simei-Barton

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Malcolm shines in contemporary ATC take on existential questions on humanity.

Robyn Malcolm plays a ruthless drug lord with a compassionate side in ATC's The Good Soul of Szechuan.
Robyn Malcolm plays a ruthless drug lord with a compassionate side in ATC's The Good Soul of Szechuan.

From a position of enormous popularity in the 1970s, Bertolt Brecht's reputation suffered a precipitous decline as the fall of the Berlin Wall exposed the moral bankruptcy of the worker's paradise to which he professed his loyalty.

A widespread revival of fortune seems unlikely but ATC's vigorous production of one of his major works affirms that Brecht was a writer of enormous vitality and the blinkered ideological commitments cannot obscure his passionate engagement with the extremes of the human condition.

The Good Soul of Szechuan presents a thoroughly contemporary take on the age-old question of whether there is enough goodness remaining within humanity to justify our continued existence.

Plunging us into a seething globalised shanty town the design team has collaborated closely in an eclectic, grunge aesthetic with John Parker creating a swirling mass of corrugated iron rising above the detritus of consumer society.

The effect is enhanced by the raw power of John Gibson's soundtrack, which has superb live musicians delivering an invigorating mix of funk, blues and quirky synthesisers, at times shading into the anarchic energy of punk.

Against the rich emotionalism of the music the drama often had a cerebral feel as it stretches towards a running time of almost three hours including an interval.

Watch: Auckland Theatre Company: The Good Soul of Szechuan

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Colin McColl's direction may have been rather too diligent in applying Brecht's famous distancing techniques but however much the script pushes towards the joys of dialectical analysis the performances compel us to engage with messy complexity of human passions.

Robyn Malcolm shines brilliantly as she switches between a compassionate angel of the slums and a ruthless drug lord.

The stellar trio of Bronwyn Bradley, Cameron Rhodes and Simon Prast bring a rich irony to the deliberations of a divine triumvirate while a wonderfully multi-ethnic ensemble deliver performances filled with energy and verve.

What: The Good Soul of Szechuan
Where: Q Theatre until August 17

- NZ Herald

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