Der gute Mensch von Sezuan

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Der gute Mensch von Sezuan, [1] is a 1941 parable play by German poet, playwright, and theatre director Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956) [2].

The original text

The original text was developed in collaboration with Margarete Steffin [3] and Ruth Berlau [4], with original music composed by Paul Dessau ()[]. The development of the playtext started in 1938 but was not completed until 1941, while Brecht was in exile in the USA.

The first German performance took place at the Schauspielhaus in Zurich on 4 February, 1943.

Translations and adaptations

Translated into English by Eric Bentley as The Good Woman of Setzuan (1956).

Translated into English by John Willett and Ralph Manheim as The Good Person of Szechwan (1964).

The Eric Bentley English version translated into Afrikaans by *** as Die Goeie Mens van Setzuan for PACOFS in 1974.

Translated from the original German into Afrikaans by Johann van Heerden as Die Goeie Mens van Sezuan in 1976. A copy of the text held in the Drama Department archive at the University of Stellenbosch.

In 1996 Janet Suzman and Gcina Mhlope adapted Brecht's play and set the action in South Africa under the title The Good Woman of Sharkville. This version is described as follows in the programme: "The story finds another setting in contemporary South Africa, the fabled city is called Sharkville, a place underwritten by an old tragedy, but now inhabited by the colourful and villainous characters of Brecht's moving musical play."

Translated into English by David Harrower [5] as The Good Soul of Szechuan in 2008.

Performance history in South Africa

1958: In March The Good Woman of Setzuan (the Eric Bentley translation), was staged at the Little Theatre in Cape Town, directed by Rosalie van der Gucht, with Percy Sieff, Eveline Garratt, Elizabeth Bennett, Chris van den Berg, Denice Donegan, Phyllis Schaffer, Karl Oettle, Louis Franks, Eugene Rakoff, Hymie Gien, Viv Rakoff and Tony Puma.

1965: For the twenty-first birthday of the East Rand Theatre Club Leonard Schach directed the Eric Bentley translation with a cast including Alan Brooke, Denice Etherington, Stanley Hill, Ethel London and others. Decor and costumes by Chris van den Berg.

1974: In October Die Goeie Mens van Setzuan (an Afrikaans translation) staged in the Bloemfontein Civic Theatre by PACOFS, directed by William Egan, with a cast including Ernst Eloff, Annelize van der Ryst, Johan Esterhuizen, Neels Coetzee, Elize Cawood, Wim Vorster and Francesca Bantock. Stage manager Mavis Lilenstein.

1976: The Van Heerden Afrikaans translation Die Goeie Mens van Sezuan was staged by the Universiteitsteater Stellenbosch in the H.B. Thom Theatre at the Drama Department at Stellenbosch University, directed by Johann van Heerden, with Elsabé Wessels (Shen Te/Shui Ta), Johan J. Fourie (Wang), Chris Truter (Shu Fu), Elizabeth Archer (Vrou), Suzette Eksteen (Mevrou Shin), Karien Griessel (Mevrou Mi Tzu), Karien Scheepers (Mevrou Yang), Iza Trengove (Ou Vrou), Diane Vlotman (Niggie/Jong Prostituut), Antoinette Wilkinson (Skoonsuster), Jan le Roux (Oupa), Christo Compion (Lin To), Louié Loots (Seuntjie), Solly Oosthuizen (various), Kenny Beck (Polisieman), Ronnie Belcher (Vlieënier), Wouter Struwig (various), André Swart (various) and Emily Aucamp (Lin To se Seuntjie). Musicians: Limpie Basson (piano), Jannie Hofmeyr (flute), Graham Jacobs (bass guitar) and Vernon Swart (drums). Décor designed by Marjorie van Heerden and built by Emile Aucamp and team, costumes by Elaine Aucamp, lighting by Emile Aucamp and makeup by Pieter Bredenkamp.

1993: The Good Person of Szechwan staged by the Rhodes University Drama Department in the Rhodes University Theatre, directed by Andrew Buckland, assisted by Neil Borland, musical direction by Norbert Nowotny, set design by Lindi Roberts, costume design by Kyle Hudson, lighting design by Michael Carklin. Cast included: Michael Carklin (Third God), Niqui Cloete (Shen The/Shui Ta), Jenni Davies (Carpenter/Prostitute), Nelleke de Jager (The Kid), Catherine de Kock (Mrs Yang/Wife), Jo Dunn (Su-li), Therese Dunn (Niece/Old Man/Prostitute), Nicci Hayes (First God), Rebecca Hill (Mrs Mi Tzu), Kate McDonald (Mrs Shin), Adam Neill (Nephew/Old Woman), Darryl Nel (Wang), Dylan Perlman (Unemployed man/Brother), Adrian Poulsen (Yang Sun), Swapna Prabhakaran (Second God), Lanon Prigge (Policeman/Priest/Gentleman), Barry Smith (Mr Shu Fu/Grandfather), Peter van Heerden (Husband), Rebecca Whisson (Waitress).

1996: The Good Woman of Sharkville produced at the National Arts Festival, 1996, directed by Janet Suzman, assisted by Sello Maake Ka-Ncube. Set designer Johan Engels, costume designer Sarah Roberts, lighting designer Mannie Manim, composer and musical director Didi Kriel. The cast included Sello Maake Ka-Ncube, Pamela Nomvete, Alistair Dube, Patrick Ndlovu, Selaelo Maredi, Maggie Williams, Nomsa Nene, Martha Mdenge, Lindelani Buthelezi, Ramolao Makhene, James Ngcobo, Sello Motloung, Eddie Mhlapo, Connie Mafuka, Patricia Mothapele, Makhaola Ndebele, Debbie Siyenga, Doris Sihula.

1996: The Good Woman of Sharkville staged in the Market Theatre, 16 July - 31 August 1996. Directed by Suzman, with Eddie Mhlapho, James Ngcobo, Nomsa Nene, Patrick Ndlovu, Makhaola Ndebele, Debra Siyengo, Sello Motloung, Sello Maake ka Ncube, Lindelani Buthelezi, Martha Mdenge, Ramolao Makhene, Patricia Mothapele, Connie Mfuku, Selaelo Maredi.

1997: The Good Woman of Sharkville taken on a 1997 tour of the United Kingdom.

2004: Performed in translated by Eric Bentley's English verion as The Good Person of Setzuan, directed by Tamar Meskin for the Drama and Performance Studies Department of the University of Kwazulu-Natal (UKZN) production, designed by Mervyn McMurtry, featuring Libby Allen and Lenin Shabalala, staged at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre (Durban) in September.


UTS theatre programme, September 1976.

Inskip, 1977. p 128.

PACOFS Drama 25 Years, 1963-1988

NELM catalogue.

Theatre programme (2004 production) held by NELM: [Collection: KORT, Maurice]: 2012. 379. 33. 27.

Curriculum Vitae of Johann van Heerden (2011).

National Arts Festival programme, 1996.

Theatre programme (Market Theatre production) held by NELM: [Collection: MARKET THEATRE]: 2007. 32. 9. 80. 2

Percy Tucker. 1997. Just the Ticket. My 50 Years in Show Business. Johannesburg: Witwatersrand University Press: p. 206.

Theatre programme (Rhodes University Drama Department production, 1993)

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