The Good House of Happiness: Bright, broad strokes don’t entirely cover the cracks
Pan Pan aims to give Brecht’s work a modern, accurate update
Zolzaya Enkhtuya, Saruul Altantuya, Ashley Xie, Eh-Jae Kim, Xier Luo and Zheyu Wei in The Good House of Happiness. Photograph: Ros Kavanagh
Smock Alley Theatre
Bertold Brecht’s parable play The Good Person of Szechwan was originally performed in Switzerland, with an all-German cast playing the Chinese roles. Pan Pan Theatre came up with a way to restore the balance. Why not find some vivid personalities - not necessarily actors - from the correct part of the world, and get them to portray seven people trying to put on Brecht’s play in 2017?
Thus the cast of The Good House of Happiness is made up of a German Korean, three young Chinese who are also based here - a budding actor who works in a takeaway, a singer who works for a tech company, and a scholar doing a PhD on globalisation and theatre - and two Mongolian accountants who compete in pole-dancing competitions. They’re a lively bunch. The Mongolian women take up some striking pole positions and Ashley Xie excels in the central role of a young female restaurateur who impersonates a man in order to achieve economic success.
The play opens brightly as the cast members create a strong comic sequence out of greeting each other, with exaggerated Asian politeness, in their various languages. There’s a hilarious scene when they subsequently fall out, and abuse each other in those languages with equal ardour.
Sadly, as the story progresses, the yin and yang of Brechtian conceit and slapstick play-within-a-play stubbornly refuse to blend and settle. Brecht’s episodic examination of the concept of “goodness” drowns in a sea of broad humour, undistinguished declarations on the topic of money, a bizarre drunken pilot skit and a torrent of songs that seems never-ending. A good house, then, not a great one: but if it plants the idea of further Chinese-Irish theatrical constructions, that’s a good thing in itself.
Runs until October 15th