Monday, 6 June 2011

Theatre Review: Faustus

Christopher Marlowe's Faustus, also known as The Tragicall History of the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus, is playing at the Powerhouse until 25 June, and if you're at all interested in excellent acting, awesome staging, lyrically complicated dialogue, or making a deal with the devil, I recommend you go see it! (Note: Under 30s get in for $30...)

The story is, of course, that Dr Heinrich Faustus gets bored of studying things like Law and Medicine, and turns to magic and necromancy instead. He summons a demon, and makes a deal with Lucifer for the demon, Mephistopheles, to be his servant for twenty-four years, in exchange for his soul. One pact written in blood later, and most of the twenty-four pass in hedonistic pleasure-seeking. But then Faustus falls in love with Gretchen, an innocent, unspoilt girl. Because the play is a tragedy, this doesn't end well.

First thing to know is that this is a joint production by QTC and the Bell Shakespeare Company. The last of their joint efforts that I saw was Anatomy Titus: Fall of Rome, and I have never been so amazed by a piece of theatre. Faustus doesn't quite knock that one off its pedestal - hard to do, it's Titus - but it's a fantastic production all the same. Bell Shakespeare seem to have a knack for stripping back Shakespearean-era texts just enough, dispensing with anything that will distract an audience from the meat of the story, and Faustus is another great example.

The quality of the acting helps as well, of course. John Bell himself played Mephistopheles, and he had a fantastic collection of actors around him. I don't think I've seen the guy in the lead role in anything else, but he was excellent! So was Gretchen, and so were the collection of devils. Jason Klarwein in particular seemed to enjoy his cynical, twisted Lucifer, if the dead-pan expression and devil's horns hand gestures are anything to go by.

Aside from that, this production featured some other interesting modernisation. The costumes and props were modern, and there was the odd bit of slang thrown in, but what really stood out were the effects and multimedia.

The stage was set with an unfinished, unpainted smaller stage within the larger stage of the regular theatre. You could see the wings, the props at the sides - overall there was no effort made to disguise the fact that this was a play. The actors all behaved as though this smaller stage was their total stage, and it had the overall effect of a kind of entrapment, a slight sense of tight spaces and claustrophobia, which made sense considering the story. The lighting and effects were excellent overall, but I really liked the use of projected films, to illustrate some of the longer speeches within the text. Towards the climax, two of the actors were filmed live and projected onto the front curtain, presumably so we could see them in close up during their scene. It was a simple and very effective moment.

So yeah, overall, two thumbs up! I thoroughly enjoyed this production, and while it always takes a while to get into the rhythm of the language, in this case it's well worth the effort.

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