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The Good Person of Szechwan review at Barbican Theatre, London – ‘an extraordinary performance’

The Good Person of Szechwan The Moscow Pushkin Theatre production of The Good Person of Szechwan

The Moscow Pushkin Drama Theatre production of Brecht’s The Good Person of Szechuan contains one of the most impressive performances you’re likely to see on stage this year. Alexandra Ursulyak, as the sex-worker Shen Te is phenomenal.

Obliged to don the garb and persona of a made-up male cousin, she inhabits both roles completely. The way in which she transforms herself is fascinating as is the physical precision of her performance. As Shen Te she’s vulnerable, but determined to live a good life. As her cousin Shui Ta, in a suit and moustache, there’s more than a dash of the vaudevillian to her performance.

Yury Butosov’s epic production is peppered with striking imagery. Performed in Russian, with English surtitles, Brecht’s songs are sung in German. Rice grains and cigarette packets rain down from above. The huge image of Diane Arbus’ iconic twins and the rail of identical black dresses that provide the backdrop to several scenes serve to reinforce the ideas of performance and duality.  Though long – at nearly three and a half hours – it feels incredibly taut, and the music, performed by a boiler-suited band on the side of the stage, gives it energy and propulsion.

Not everything works. The character of water-seller Wang is depicted as phsyically disabled, and the way actor Alexander Matrosov becomes Wang, twisting his body, while presumably intended as another form of doubling, makes the production feel out-dated to say the least. The ensemble is, however, tightly drilled and the level of detail in all the performances is impressive. But it’s Ursulyak’s show. A radiant rock star clown, she’s mesmeric and magnificent.

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Striking production of Brecht's attack on capitalism featuring an extraordinary performance by Alexandra Ursulyak