PRESS: THE GOOD SOUL OF SZECHAUN, a Brecht classic, at Magnet Theatre for Trainee Graduation

Christine Skinner

 

Magnet Theatre is proud to present the graduation production of the sixth cohort of the Fulltime Training & Job Creation Programme.

The Good Soul of Szechuan by Bertolt Brecht, translated by David Harrower, will be presented from 16 to 24 June at Magnet Theatre.

This classic play is a theatrical parable that questions the possibility of moral goodness amidst the poverty, inequality, and exploitation inherent under capitalism.

Directors Mark Fleishman and Qondiswa James work in a dynamic collaboration with Neo Muyanga and Magnet Theatre’s graduating class of 2022: Azola Mkhabile, Bongani Dyalivana, Buhle Stefane, Bulelwa Mbalo, Gabriel Buis, Khaya Magantsela, Kuhle Myathaza, Lindokuhle Melaphi, Mihlali Bele, Molupi Lepeli, Nosiphiwo Ndabeni, Olwethu Qavile, Siphenathi Siqwayi, Sipho Kalako, Thabo Mkenene and Wendy Mrali.

Magnet Theatre is one of South Africa’s best known independent physical theatre companies that has been operating in and outside of South Africa for the past 37 years. In addition to creating original, award-winning productions, Magnet runs multi-layered educational programmes that are aimed at the transformation of young people’s lives and the theatre industry as a whole.


Magnet Theatre’s two-year Fulltime Training and Job Creation Programme is a skills development initiative that helps youth bridge the gap to tertiary education and employment in the creative economy.

The Company has recently returned from a successful European tour, performing its productions KNOCK! and Stone Play.


Earlier this year, Magnet Theatre’s Early Years Programme was awarded the Fleur du Cap Theatre Award for Innovation in Theatre. Magnet Theatre production Snapped was also nominated for awards in five categories.


Current Magnet Theatre trainees Wendy Mrali and Siphenathi Siqwayi received Fleur du Cap award nominations for their works presented at the Zabalaza Festival with Siphenathi winning Best New Director.

I chose the play because it resonated a lot with the current conditions in South Africa - the wealth gap, major inequalities between rich and poor, the conditions of poverty that many people live under etc. The play is fundamentally a critique of a capitalist system that puts the acquisition of money and the exploitation of human and other resources in pursuit of profit above all else, and calls into question what determines moral choices and value systems,” says Mark Fleishman, Artistic Director and Co-founder of Magnet Theatre.


It is also a play by a major figure of modern drama and a significant exponent of political theatre and his work is not often seen any longer in South African theatres because of the size and scale of the productions and the casting required. Working with a group of trainees who required a range of roles to play and in a context that did not require big box office returns, allowed for this choice and satisfied a personal desire to see this kind of work being shown here in Cape Town. The style of the production, which includes physical imagery, choral work, singing, and a broad physical approach to characterization, was also good for showcasing what this group of trainees has learned in their 2.5 years on the Magnet Theatre Full-time Training and Job Creation Programme.”


Of all the cohorts these trainees have had to overcome biggest challenges. These were as a result of Covid -19; the constant interruptions to the training, the stress and the extra pressure that the pandemic placed on their lives. This production is a celebration of the resilience of the cohort in not only surviving the pandemic, but remaining committed and engaged in their training and development. They have reached the end of their training in exceptional circumstances, displaying exceptional talent and like the other Magnet training cohorts before them, are poised to enter the professional theatre with a bang!

The narrative of The Good Soul of Szechuan follows three gods who travel to earth to determine whether there are any ‘good’ people left. They arrive in the town of Szechuan and meet Shen Te, a local sex-worker, whose goodness supersedes her lifestyle. She is rewarded with some capital and buys herself a small tobacco shop. Very quickly however, the community begins to take advantage of her kindness until the shop is in danger of closing. To save her shop while still maintaining her reputation as the charitable Shen Te, she invents a ruthless alter ego, her male cousin Shui Ta, to protect her business interests. Ultimately, Shen Te’s altruism comes into conflict with Shui Ta’s pragmatic ruthlessness.


In keeping with Brecht's theory of alienation, the play incorporates movement, choral work and song. The text is set in China but was originally aimed at critiquing the economic circumstances in Germany in the 1930s/40s that ultimately led to the rise of Nazism and the Second World War. It remains, however, a cutting critique of capitalist society’s definition of contemporary morality and altruism in social and economic terms and is deeply relevant to the circumstances in which we find ourselves in South Africa today - one of the most unequal societies in the world. Through this play Brecht suggests that pure goodness cannot thrive in a society that favours rampant self-interest, cut-throat competition, and deceit, and that in fact, economic systems are what determine a society’s morality.

Shen Te’s struggle to be good in the face of economic and personal hardship is no less meaningful today than when the play was first performed in 1944.

The Good Soul of Szechuan (Harrower) will be performed from 16th June to 24th June at 7pm. There will be a matinee on Saturday 18th June and the Graduation performance on Saturday 25th June at Magnet Theatre - Corner of Lower Main and St Michael’s Roads in Observatory.


COVID regulations limit seating so, booking is essential. Off-street parking available.

Tickets are R100 for general admission with concessions for scholars, students, pensioners and block bookings @ R50. Bookings can be made at Webtickets.

The Magnet Theatre youth development programme activities are generously supported by: The TK Foundation, Oppenheimer Memorial Trust, HCI Foundation, HCI Foundation Community Transport Support Programme, The Potjie Foundation, Western Cape Government Department of Cultural Affairs and Sport, Andrea Fine Theatre Bursary, Ampersand Foundation, MAID Foundation, Redefine Properties, FirstRand FirstJob Programme, University of Cape Town, and Ben Strauss Legal.

For more information about the production and how to support Magnet’s Fulltime Training and Job Creation Programme to ensure continued building of future artists, email admin@magnettheatre.co.za or call 021 448 3436.


This amateur production of “The Good Soul of Szechuan (Harrower)” is presented by arrangement with Concord Theatricals Ltd. on behalf of Samuel French Ltd.