Doctor Faustus - Edinburgh 2009
Aug 22, 2009
Fringe Review ***
To theatre professionals, there are few phrases more likely to cause the eyes to roll than “student show” with all the pretention, earnestness and over-reaching the phrase so frequently suggests. Dr Faustus, though, is a cut above. The sexy young cast, though few standing out by themselves, work compellingly well as an ensemble, clad in burlesque outfits, moving and wiggling erotically to the distraction of baby-faced Faustus and investing this contemporary take on the story with wit as well as faith.
The story is well trodden ground. Doctor Faustus- here played by cherubic Alex Lawless - makes a pact with the devil (“You could be bigger than Jesus” he’s told) and is variously taken to the edge of delight and the depths of despair only finally to be left alone and helpless in purgatory. There’s gender swapping galore with a female pope (Pope Clitori), and a male Helen of Troy among the assorted visions. Lawless is a sweet thing (although quite why he’s wearing two pairs of underpants is a puzzle) and although his raging passion stretches him beyond his vocal limits the extent of his investment in this challenging part is commendable. As Mephistophilis, Sophie Walsh Harrington has a nice line in sardonic humour but is perhaps a little over-parted here, not projecting either her voice or her gravitas in the way the part requires. Neither are helped by James Wilkes’ script which has a flat modern tone quite at odds with not only the subject but, more importantly, the treatment. The strengths of the presentation, of which there are many, reveal the weaknesses in most of the writing.
Seeing these lithe young things writhing around (fishnets here, a glinting naval stud there, buttocks everywhere, make-up galore) reminds us that the long-established delight students have in showing off their bodies to a paying public when given half a chance is alive and well. Even so, here it serves the conception of the piece very well and indeed the danced sequences (the show is very sharply directed by Kate Shenton with a terrific visual flair and a series of striking tableau created with the ensemble - clearly one to watch) are highlights which work in the story and don’t feel like a set of “let’s show you what we can do” party pieces. That said, there are points where it almost feels that some of the actors are fighting for a trophy for the Smallest Bottom on the Fringe award (a dead heat between Lust and Pride I think). But good on them. How I hate being 31.
What really recommends this piece is the precision, effort and energy clearly invested in it by everyone involved. They know what they’re doing but they also know why and self evidently believe in it. And that is a very inspiring way of spending 45 minutes. Fans of passion, purgatory or even posteriors should have a good time.
Originally posted: http://www.fringereview.co.uk/fringeReview/3121.html