The Good Woman of Szechuan (2007/2008)

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"This is the great thing about this theatre company: we are never completely sure whose side they are on – how Brecht would have cheered!"

Teaching Drama Magazine

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"The performance vividly and consciously demonstrated Brecht in practice... You worked really hard and provided a top-quality package!"

Chris Walker, Drama Teacher,
Eckington School

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"Such inspiring theatre! Gives the students a real buzz"

Rachel Everingham, Head of Performing Arts,
Robert Smyth School

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"There is no way Brecht can be seen as boring now!"

Joni McAuliffe, Head of Drama,
Park House School

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"... made Brecht look easy!"

Emma Tarratt, Head of Drama,
Burgess Hill School for Girls

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"Vibrant, engaging, slick and accessible. Wonderful!"

Jane Barrie, Director of Drama,
Kirkham Grammar School

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"Students were blown away by the actors' physical and vocal bravery."

Sian Tickle, Head of Drama,
Merchant Taylors' School for Girls

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"... it has had a lasting impact across all exam groups... The production, workshop and the pack were a breath of fresh air."

Lara Ramrattan, Head of Drama,
Boston Spa Comprehensive School

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"A truly exhilarating production... Every time you have visited us it is a box of delights!"

Heather Andrew, Head of Drama & Performing Arts,
Pipers Corner School

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"Fantastic multi-roling... invaluable for A-Level."

Ceri Smith, Head of Drama,
Tiffin Girls' School

Wong
Shui Ta & Yang Sun
Yang Sun and Shen Te
Yang Sun
Shui Ta
Shui Ta & Judges
ShuFu leering
Shu Fu
Mrs Shin
Shen Te walking
Shen Te gets paid
Shen Te
Shen Te in love
Poor People everywhere
Opening song
Old Woman & Shen Te
Mrs Yang
Mrs Mi Tzu
Yang Sun
Gods & Wong
Gods
Shen Te asks help from the audience
Everybody Hates Poor People
Customer
Compensation
The Carpenter gets paid
Shen Te with Broken Heart
2 tickets to Beijing

 Rosie McKay, Kerry Frampton and Rob Vesty in Splendid’s 2007 production of The Good Woman of Szechuan (photos: Lewis Wileman)

“In a country well governed, poverty is something to be ashamed of. In a country badly governed, wealth is something to be ashamed of.” Confucius

In a time of greed and selfishness, three gods are sent down from heaven to find one genuinely ‘good’ person to prove that humanity is worth saving.

In the run-down outskirts of Szechuan they encounter Shen-Te, a sex worker, who gives them a room for the night. As a reward for her compassion they give her one thousand silver dollars with the understanding that she must sustain this goodness and charity in every aspect of her life from now on…

Is it possible to live a good life in a corrupt world? Does money bring automatic happiness? Do people always do the right thing under any circumstance? Can you be truly good without being split in two?

The opening song of the production performed in 2007

Tour poster design: Kerry Frampton

Splendid Productions’ ‘The Good Woman of Szechuan’
Toured Sept 2007 – March 2008
Written by: Bertolt Brecht
Adapted by: Ben Hales
Directed by: Lucy Cuthbertson
Songs by:  Ben Hales
Design by: Kerry Frampton
‘The Gods’ by: Christine Frampton
Film & Projections by: Ben Hales

Cast & Characters

Rosie McKay: Shen Te / Shui Ta
Rob Vesty:
Wong, Old Woman, Shu Fu, Policeman 1, Mrs Yang & Foreman
Kerry Frampton: The Gods, Mi Tzu, Mrs Shin, Carpenter, Yang Sun, Policeman 2

with thanks to: Kidbrooke School staff and students, Lisa Foster at Alan Brodie, Matt Wilde for advice, Mal Smith for the legacy & Tilly Wilde for services to administration.

More about Good Woman...

“The ‘limitations’ of a three-actor touring theatre performance were turned into a strength in a production which was completely captivating and innovative… The performance vividly and consciously demonstrated Brecht in practice, enabling my students to identify and appreciate the different techniques studied… You worked really hard and provided a top-quality package!” Chris Walker, Drama Teacher, Eckington School

“Imaginative, humorous with a real message that struck students… we’ll have you back whatever!” Andy Day, Head of Drama, Great Sankey High School

read more…

“The ‘limitations’ of a three-actor touring theatre performance were turned into a strength in a production which was completely captivating and innovative… The performance vividly and consciously demonstrated Brecht in practice, enabling my students to identify and appreciate the different techniques studied… You worked really hard and provided a top-quality package!”
Chris Walker, Drama Teacher, Eckington School

“Imaginative, humorous with a real message that struck students… we’ll have you back whatever!”
Andy Day, Head of Drama, Great Sankey High School, 

“Made Brecht’s main principles really clear and we now have a wealth of specific examples to refer back to! Especially Spass, V-Effekt and Montage. The students now really understand these… Such inspiring theatre! Gives the students a real buzz”
Rachel Everingham, Head of Performing Arts, Robert Smyth School

“There is no way Brecht can be seen as boring now!”
Joni McAuliffe, Head of Drama, Park House School

“The performance provided so many examples of Brecht’s theory in practice.”
Helen Whelan, Drama Teacher, Parkstone Grammar School

“… made Brecht look easy!”
Emma Tarratt, Head of Drama, Burgess Hill School for Girls

“Vibrant, engaging, slick and accessible. Wonderful!”
Jane Barrie, Director of Drama, Kirkham Grammar School

“Students were blown away by the actors’ physical and vocal bravery.”
Sian Tickle, Head of Drama, Merchant Taylors’ School for Girls

“…it has had a lasting impact across all exam groups… The production, workshop and the pack were a breath of fresh air.”
Lara Ramrattan, Head of Drama, Boston Spa Comprehensive School

“Practical, performance-based example of all things Brecht … perfect for A2 unit 6 questions.”
Phil Gascoyne, Head of Drama, Brookfield School

“Very accessible, funny and thought provoking.”
Neil Stimson, Head of Drama, Toot Hill School

“A truly exhilarating production…. Every time you have visited us it is a box of delights!”
Heather Andrew, Head of Drama & Performing Arts, Pipers Corner School

“Funny but hugely Brechtian.”
Jo Capon, Head of Drama, Reading School

“Fantastic multi-roling… invaluable for A-Level.”
Ceri Smith, Head of Drama, Tiffin Girls’ School

“As usual… high expectations met.”
David Shaw, Head of Drama, Highworth Grammar School

“Outstanding. Really enjoyable and very professional.”
Mair Judd, Teacher of Drama, Waingels College

Press on Good Woman...

“This is the great thing about this theatre company: we are never completely sure whose side they are on – how Brecht would have cheered!”
Teaching Drama Magazine – Read the whole review…

The Good Woman of Szechuan
Reviewed by Teaching Drama Magazine (Summer Term 1 2008)

It is always an exciting time for my students and me when artistic director Kerry Frampton and her team from Splendid Productions announce a new touring production. This year it was back to Brecht with an adaptation of his epic play The Good Woman of Szechuan. In a time of greed and selfishness, three gods are sent down from heaven to find a single genuinely good person to prove that humanity is worth saving. In the run-down outskirts of the town of Szechuan they encounter Shen-Te, a prostitute who provides them with a room for the night. As a reward for her compassion, the three gods give her one thousand silver dollars with the understanding that she must sustain goodness and charity in every aspect of her life from now on.

Is it possible to live a good life in a corrupt world? Does money bring happiness? Do people always do the right thing, no matter the circumstances? Can you be truly good without being split in two? These are the questions the play is asking and they constitute fantastic starting points for students looking into the devising process, as they are instantly recognisable and relevant themes to young people.

As ever with Splendid Productions, the play began with a tongue-in-cheek song and dance number – in one flash, students were laughing and clapping, enthralled by the immediacy and energy of the performance. All three performers sang heartily and the prominent use of gestus helped to mark each moment with great clarity, but not without adding a little question mark. This is the great thing about this theatre company: we are never completely sure whose side they are on – how Brecht would have cheered!

Interestingly, Splendid have done away with the traditional use of titles foreshadowing events, which Brecht used so widely and replaced them with questions, for example ‘how far would you go to protect what’s yours?’ Taking the distancing argument to a new level, this was a terrific device; I felt involved but objective at the same time. I hope this effect reached my students, too, as I always try to explain to them that Brecht did not want an audience to just passively consume what was being performed for them. If your students struggle with the Verfremdungseffekt, it is a good idea to see this production. The actors use narration to move the story as they simultaneously dress into a new role. They then come out of role to question whether the audience understood what happened in the previous scene. Kerry Frampton uses puppets to great effect to play three very different gods, while her colleague Rosie McKay (new to the company and a physical theatre practitioner) makes extensive use of gestus.

Shen-Te’s struggle to maintain integrity in the face of corruption and hardship is compelling drama, if not a riveting story, and Kerry Frampton and her partner Ben Hales have worked hard to keep the play contemporary and relevant. The actors’ performances were nothing short of outstanding, but there was also a problem with this production: despite the actors’ skill to easily slip into different roles, the audience sometimes struggled to keep track of who is playing who. It was a case, I felt, of actors playing several roles out of necessity rather than deliberation. At this point, you may have wondered if the play might be just too big for this talented trio. However, in the end, we felt that we had seen an inspiring performance of a rather uninspiring play. As Splendid Productions remains a brilliant touring theatre company, they manage to create amazing theatre regardless of material.

Ideas generated by the play were later explored in a wonderful workshop led by actor Rob Vesty. Students were given newspaper articles and had to create a piece of theatre based on the theory of the street accident: the idea it is to tell a story from an outsider’s point of view rather than from a protagonist’s point of view, doing so with varying attitudes (for example scornful, compassionate, indifferent). Students were encouraged to use sound effects, slow motion, rewind and thought-tracking to keep the play lively. They created fantastic work, which was dynamic, powerful and slick.

In their series ‘Practitioners in Performance’, Splendid Productions offer workshop programmes on Artaud, Berkoff, Boal, Brecht, Brook, Craig, Godber, Grotowski and Stanislavski. Other workshops offered by the company deal with devising and performance skills, text, and advanced physical theatre, which is taught by Rosie McKay, who uses the techniques of Grotowski and Feldenkrais.

Kerry Frampton has given workshops in my school on devising theatre using Complicite and Berkoff techniques. She listens intently and uses her enthusiasm for both theatre and young people to take their work to a higher level. Students were also very impressed with Rosie McKay’s work and kept experimenting weeks after she had gone. In short, Splendid Productions are a theatre group for young people. They are passionate and highly skilled drama educators with a wide range of workshops available. Please do get them into your school – you won’t regret it.
[Richard Coe]

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