Review: Faust x2, The Watermill
What on earth does Faust – a work-weary academic with a dicky heart – and Star Wars’ evil Emperor Palpatine have in common? Well, both are played by Scottish acting legend Ian McDiarmid, for starters, both turn to the dark side, frustrated by their limitations and they both want to have their wicked way. Although in Faust’s case, this has more to do with getting his dirty old man hands on the virtuous Gretchen, than it does with galactic domination.
Faust x 2 at The Watermill in Newbury, is director Lisa Blair’s modern interpretation of the famous Goethe morality poem. The show opens with flickering lights, mind-bending sounds and the respectable Faust (McDiarmid) – suited, booted and full of himself and his superior intelligence – sat on an illuminated box.
Faust is obsessed with youth, craves a limitless knowledge and refuses to accept that both mind and body are failing him. In a desperate attempt to fulfil his every desire, he makes a pact with Jacques Miche’s Mephisto (aka the devil). Once Faust has signed his life away, in blood on a smartphone, Faust goes from cantankerous yet respectable prof to a creepy old perv who lurks in the shadows. Using a simple theatrical device, Faust seduces Daisy Fairclough’s innocent Gretchen through the proxy of the young cocksure Mephisto – lip-synching the old man’s words to break Gretchen’s god-fearing resolve and get her knickers off.
Although the production pushes the technical envelope, using a video wall brilliantly – littered with biblical quotes and moving imagery; sometimes it’s hard to keep up with the machine-gun delivery of the poem. Don’t even think about drifting off during this 70-minute show, if you’re not paying attention (yes you at the back with your nose in a box of Maltesers) then you can quickly get lost. Blink and you’ll miss the moment Miche takes on the role of the young Faust and who knows why Gretchen killed her mother and younger sister? The small cast of three, stripped back staging and modern vibes all lend themselves to a speedy production, but an extra 10 minutes could’ve explained the loose ends.
The stars of the show? Well, McDiarmid puts in a stellar performance, as you would expect from an actor of his calibre. The two young actors Fairclough and Miche are great, but the Force is strong with Miche who has a bright future ahead of him.
Faust x 2 is at The Watermill in Newbury until March 25, watermill.org.uk