Many will be familiar with Marlowe’s Dr Faustus, the tale of man’s downfall in search of the pleasure of the seven deadly sins but this production is based on another work of the same story. Goethe’s poem of Faust was written in two parts in 1808 and the second published in 1832 and when staged in 2000, all 12,111 lines, it was a 21 hour marathon with a cast of 35.
This new version was adapted by Ian McDiarmid into a modern setting and runs for 70 minutes with just 3 actors and in focusing tightly on the story of Faust's desire for Gretchen and his deal with Mephisto creates a visually exciting and dramatic exploration of the impact on their lives of the temptations placed before them .
The play's structure retains that of a spoken poem with short sharp witty verse but the modernisation of the setting and the language, together with a strong atmospheric soundscape by Richard Hammarton, precise and evocative lighting by Elliot Griggs and clever projections by Zsolt Balogh adds significantly to the drama. The battle between God and Devil for the two protagonists’ souls is enhanced by religious imagery which is used effectively in the projections and the back wall to amplify the struggle.
Ian McDiarmid as Faust quickly establishes his character in the opening verses as an intelligent literate man and his clear perfect delivery grabs and holds the audience’s attention as he prowls around the stage or looks directly into the tight Watermill auditorium. It is delightful that the two young actors who play opposite him and who are the source of his temptation, Daisy Fairclough as Gretchen and Jacques Miche as Mephisto are his equal in every scene .Gretchen is the young innocent religious girl at home with her mother who Faust desires and Mephisto promises to deliver her to him.
Simple costume changes and clever use of voiceover beautifully portray how this seduction progresses. When Faust pulls the hood of Mephisto’s coat over his head to hide and observe the other two, the comparison with McDiarmid Star Wars’ character Palpatine is inescapable and the dark forces of both tales are underlined.
Director Lisa Blair has bought all these elements together into a tight, exciting visual feast which enhances the spoken word and creates a drama that assaults the senses and challenges the mind.
Review by Nick Wayne