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The Good Woman Of Setzuan

Any disagreement about the impact or otherwise of Brecht’s philosophy is far outweighed at the Playhouse where the foremost appeal is provided by skilful direction and stimulating acting.  Brecht was a propagandist rather than a dramatist, a tract writer rather than an inventor of stage situations but all that can be forgotten when watching “The Good Woman of Setzuan” as staged so brilliantly by Colin George and as played so dominatingly by Anne Stallybrass.  These two features surpass any “wordy” discussions.

True Brecht found his ideas in the age-old humanities, as, indeed, did Marx, but for me he never reveals that sense of creative impact as shown, for example, by Wesker in “Chips in Everything” or by Behan in “The Hostage”.  It is all-round stage technique in set-building by Charles Angus and lighting by Bry Fergusion, plus perfect player-direction, which pull the piece through at the Playhouse and make it memorable.

Even the interpolation of rear projection of photographic stills is completely overwhelmed by the rich and warm performance by Anne Stallybrass as Shen Te.

Other players who are notable and who obviously refuse to be weighed down by any sense of heavy preaching are Michael Warchus, as the airman, introducing a really refreshing note more akin to the theatre than to the political platform, and Roger Rowland, as the water seller, adding a further touch of liveliness.

The remaining players are well in character, particularly the little boy as a street urchin, some perhaps too much so in Brechtian aspect, and the music by Gilbert Kennedy, the theatre’s own composer, provides a well-balanced atmosphere.  Whether all this most laudable effort is worthwhile remains a matter of highly personal opinion, but it does, at least show that Colin George, Geoffrey Ost, and all concerned with them, are capable of successfully tackling anything on a stage, even a tract.

The Stage and Television Today
3 October 1963

Sheffield Playhouse
Theatre 60s

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