Preview: The Good Soul of Szechuan, Young Vic, London

Horrocks, the unlikely he-man
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The Independent Culture

The Olivier Award-winning British director Richard Jones's latest challenge is to revamp Bertolt Brecht. He directs a cross-dressing Jane Horrocks in the dual role of Shen Te, the "good soul", and her male alter ego Shui Ta, in David Harrower's new translation of The Good Soul of Szechuan, complete with songs written by David Sawer.

Jones, who has directed at more than 25 opera houses worldwide, is reputed to be one of the most imaginative and thought-provoking directors around. He introduced scratch-and-sniff cards to Prokofiev's Love for Three Oranges and transformed Verdi's Macbeth into a comedy with a washing machine that Lady Macbeth filled with white gloves.

He made his Metropolitan Opera debut in New York in 2007 with Hansel und Gretel, which he also directed for the Welsh National Opera. Other directorial credits include Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk (Royal Opera House), Into the Woods (West End), and Titanic (Broadway). But he is more than slightly apprehensive about being labelled as some kind of wild man, and maintains: "I just honour the text and the author. I've never set out to put an original stamp on any production. That is not my aim – but yes, I think directing reveals a lot about the people who direct the text."

Jones, who has just stepped out of rehearsals at the Young Vic for The Good Soul of Szechuan, says that cast activities include researching back-stories on characters and improvising events between scenes.

"It is a play about the inability to do good in a corrupt society. Horrocks spends half the time as a man and half the time as a woman. When she is a man, she is bad and society functions. When she is a woman, she is good and society becomes chaotic," he says.

"The stage directions specify that it is set in mid-20th-century China... There are stylistic challenges in the material because it has to have a strong realism, but the situations are diagrammatic – so it's about balancing those things."

8 May to 28 June (020-7922 2922)