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Janet Awe

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‘Faust’ at the Young Vic, London – So good I saw it twice!

Posted on by Janet Awe

I loved this gravity-defying production so much, that when I saw the next day, via twitter, that they’d added an extra show, I grabbed myself a ticket.

Faust

Faust

Inspired by Goethe’s Faust, the play examines those big questions of life: What does it mean to be human? Is there a single moment so good that it’s worth giving up your soul for? Co-produced by the Reykjavik City Theatre and the Young Vic, with music by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, it’s clear that there was much faith in the team behind this show.  And it was justified.  The writers – Gisli Örn Gardarsson, Nína Dögg Filippusdóttir, Björn Hlynur Haraldasson and Vikingur Kristjansson, founders of Iceland’s groundbreaking Vesturport company – went off to the Icelandic countryside for a few days to let their imaginations run wild developing a script that would be a worthy adaptation of the hefty original, but that they could pull off in a two-hour production. Gisli then directs the production, with Nína and Björn in two of the principle roles.  The result is an other-worldy, witty script that grabs your senses by the throat and gives it a playful shake.   Set in an old people’s home over Christmas with a seemingly sedate group of residents, the sole entertainment appears to be the daily exercise regime they’re forced to perform in their wheelchairs to George Michael’s ‘White Christmas’, in what become an almost sadistic routine.  In the midst of this, one elderly man’s despair at the futility of his remaining years conjures the devil with alarming (but exhilarating) results.

Bjorn Hlynur Haraldsson in Faust at the Young Vic (Photo by Tristram Kenton)

Bjorn Hlynur Haraldsson in Faust at the Young Vic (Photo by Tristram Kenton)

The stage set is fabulous. Criss-crossed rope identifies the back wall, with windows marked out by red-tinsel. A small but pretty detail at the start, the rope is cleverly used later for the devil and his helpers to cling onto, as they leap across the stage and hang mid-air. That see-through wall also enables us to watch people outside in the snow, delivering an extra dimension to the setting. It’s complemented by a rope ceiling, which allows the action to spread out over our heads, as the cast deftly walks, crawls, runs and bounces across the sky above us.

Every bit of space is used. This, combined with more traditional theatre tricks that use trap doors to shoot the devil’s cohorts onto the stage or suck them down into the bowels of an unseen chasm down below, music that’s a mix of subtle humour and full-on mania and a well-paced and well-acted script, means that you’re bombarded with action throughout.

The cast are amazing, smoothly integrating great aerial acrobatics with wonderful and often comic acting. Their timing is superb on every count. In fact, so is their entire performance. When the wistful old man finds that he’s swapped bodies with the devil’s debonair side-kick, as part of the deal, the subtleties that the two of them bring to playing each other are priceless. Whilst the devil himself mixes evil with humour, beautifully. And that really is to name just a few of the outstanding cast.

The intimate nature of the Young Vic made it a great venue for this production. Performances like that, when you can practically touch the actors makes the atmosphere even more electric.

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