Saturday, 23 November 2002

Faust, Nov 2002

Faust  by Goethe  by Grail Theatre
Chapel off Chapel, Wed to Sun , 8.30pm, Nov 2002
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

It is too rare to see the German writer, Goethe, on stage in Melbourne.

This production of his major play, Faust, directed by Fredric Lleaf , is economical and effective in its simplicity of staging and edited script.

Goethe's Faust is an exceptional work that occupied thirty years of his life in the writing.

Dr. Heinrich Faust  is an aging melancholic whose suicide attempt is interrupted by the devil, Mephistopheles.  (Michael Burkett)

He trades his soul for eternal youth and the promised love of Gretchen,  (Karla Silvey) the sweet, innocent daughter of his neighbour. A benign God (Leon Durr) witnesses the bargain.

The plan goes awry when Gretchen accidentally poisons her mother with a sleeping draft and Faust kills her brother Valentin in a fight.  ( Luke Doxey)

 Burkett is a delightfully impish and sardonic as Mephistopheles. He relies not on melodrama or portentous tones, but on a light, bright, insidious ease to create the manipulative evil of the role.

Donald Baigent  plays Faust with great skill, detail and sympathy. Faust's shattered psyche is palpable in Baigent's performance. He is an actor of whom we should see more.

Burkett and Baigent make a fine duet in this battle of good and evil. The relationship between Mephisto and Faust is intense. Goethe's witty, rapid dialogue makes it both entertaining and disturbing. Broken romance, abandoned love, human folly and free will are all themes in this tragedy.

Silvey, as Gretchen, the victim and ingenue, has an uncanny, alabaster, doll-like quality that makes her seem almost unreal.

Lleaf keeps the staging uncluttered, relying on the characters to speak Goethe's poetic and intelligent dialogue.

The script edits leave some gaps in the narrative but it moves swiftly. The pace heightens the relentlessness of Mephisto's plan.

Lleaf places audience on two sides of the long narrow performance space in a traverse seating plan. This is awkward for sight lines at times when action is at extreme ends of the corridor of performance.

Lighting design, by Becky Russell,  is simple, dramatic and evocative. Original music by Geoffey O'Connell  enhances the atmosphere.

There is more to be gleaned from Goethe's Faust but this is a strong smaller scale production which much to commend it, particularly the two lead actors, Burkett and Baigent.

By Kate Herbert

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