DramaReviewSouth West

Faust x 2 – Watermill Theatre, Newbury

Adaptors and Translators: Ian McDiarmid and Philip Wayne
Director: Lisa Blair
Reviewer: David Jobson

The story of Faustus selling his soul to the Devil never ceases to intrigue. It has spawned countless adaptations, including Marlowe and Gothe’s plays. It is a goldmine of moral and mythical themes for writers and directors to delve in (and perhaps show off a bit of style and flair).

tell-us-block_editedNow Ian McDiarmid has decided to tackle the story, adapting the Phillip Wayne translation of the Goethe play into a one hour and 10-minute play. Certainly, this abbreviated version allows McDiarmid to focus on certain aspects of the story, but the result feels like a missed opportunity.

It starts off simply with McDiarmid onstage as Faust soliloquizing his dissatisfaction at the life he leads. His lustrous voice diving down into Palpatine-esque growls to bring out his self-loathing and disparaging views of the vain lives others lead.

Once Faustus signs his soul to Mephistopheles (or Mephisto) the rest of the production focuses on his courtship of Gretchen. Indeed, given the short running time events move rapidly as Faustus, with all the power and knowledge now bestowed upon him, instantly decides he must savour the delights of the flesh.

Still, in spite of the running time the play drags during the courtship scenes, as Mephisto takes on the appearance of Faustus to court Gretchen. Despite the fact that Mephisto has to mime while McDiarmid’s voice is played as voiceover, the chemistry between the two young actors is lacking.

The depictions of Mephisto and Gretchen are two-dimensional at best. Jacques Miche plays Mephisto as a cheeky, devious lad, taking pleasure in switching roles with Faustus to woo Gretchen, but there is so much more he could do with the role.

Daisy Fairclough meanwhile as the devout 16-year-old Gretchen has moments of tenderness, mourning the loss of a little sister. But for a young woman at her age, she does play it very childlike. She comes off as the stock character of the innocent youngster being tempted and consumed by evil.

Certainly when the fruits of Mephistos’s work finally come to fruition there is some disturbing imagery used. Only to be followed up by bouts of exposition on what has just occurred. Some details given barely matched the imagery and were so hurriedly relayed that it is a struggle to keep up.

The play has its moments. McDiarmid’s performance alone elevates it. Phillip Wayne’s translation of the Goethe play brings forth some wonderful verse. There is also some effective imagery with the use of projection and technology.

When the production tries to bring the technology and verse together, though, it results in some cringe-worthy moments. Such as when Mephistos has Faustus sign his bloody signature on a phone screen, after which he proclaims that it is “recorded in memory”.

An interesting and thankfully short interpretation of this familiar story, but nothing more.

Runs until 25 March 2017 | Image: Philip Tull

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