Monday, 22 October 2007

Faustus - Nuffield Theatre & Tour

Faustus by Marlowe adapted by Rupert Goold & Ben Power
Nuffield Theatre Southampton: 18th-20th October & Tour
Direction: Rupert Goold
Directed by: Steve Marmion
Reviewed by David Saunders

The much vaunted Rupert Goold and his Headlong Theatre Company arrived in Southampton on Thursday bringing with them their new adaptation of Marlowe’s story of Doctor Faustus.

The piece has been well received on its tour thus far and has had a run at the Hampstead Theatre in London. The story is told in two contrasting parts. First in Wittenberg, Germany as John Faustus, doctor and scholar, pledges himself to the dark art of necromancy and conjures the devil. Secondly we are in Hoxton, London as Artists Jake and Dinos Chapman are preparing to ‘rectify’ a priceless set of Goya etchings. Both stories deal with the issue of immortality as we move from the world of BritArt to Sixteenth Century Europe and back again. The piece uses an original take on the old story with the Chapman brothers mirroring, in a modern world the deal that Faustus made.

The set, designed by Laura Hopkins follows the current vogue in theatre design for minimalist stark moving sets. We see the dark, black study where Faustus spends his time and then as the set folds itself out we are transported to the white box world of the Chapman’s studio. The interaction of the set and the actors adds to the slick feel of this production.

Our Faustus in this production (played by Michael Colgan) lacked the vocal power to put across this man struggling with a crisis of faith and the drive of his own ego. The performance of Claire Lams as Helena gave a grace to her role as conscience to the work of the Chapman brothers. She shows a quiet rage in this role which speaks the audiences’ point of view on the BritArt provocateurs and their attempt to rectify Goya’s work.

The brothers are brought to life by Rocky Marshall (Jake) and Tam Mutu (Dinos) who show the brothers not just as the punk artisans we know but also imbue them with a real sense of two men almost bored by their celebrity and desperately in need of their next big fix to keep their world ticking along. Marshall in particular offers the older brother a depth and complexity the role deserves. While Tam Mutu gives Dinos a dark geeky persona that makes the brothers need to shock all the more powerful.

We are given a little light relief by the Art Critic Foster ably played by Gus Brown giving a light touch to proceedings and placing the character as a Brian Sewell alike with all the pretentious self indulgent qualities needed for the role to become more than just the jester of the piece.

The devil is in the detail in this piece and it falls to Jason Baughan to offer us a more impish take on Mephistopheles. The actor gives a variety to the role and the opportunity to see the character as more than just a fallen angel but also as the dark side of all the characters stepping in and out of the piece sequences with dry observations and earthy disdain.

Overall this Faustus offers slick production, depth and a fresh look at the legend in our celebrity obsessed world. The direction has a sensitive touch and you can see why the director’s name is being whispered on the South Bank at a certain big playhouse. A sharp darkly witty adaptation told with muscular economy and cut through with a sly stab at the world we all live in and the things that drive us.

For more information on the tour which end in Guildford on the 24th November please visit

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