The first shock that lands from #Faustus is the language. Against the backdrop of a visual barrage of what looks like a WikiLeaks spill of internet data mixed with images and headlines Faust, William Beddoe, plunges into a poetic narrative, courtesy of Christopher Marlow. And herein lies the superior strength and the challenge of this intriguing show. The signal conveyed by all that computer imaging is that we are in modern times. So it takes the ear a few moments to adjust to the poetically packed verse. One asks, where are we? Where is Faust? Aha, he’s in front of the computer screen of the world, contemplating the meaning of life. Humankind is devolving into chaos and Faust wants answers. At any cost.
Faust is a man on a mission trying to sort out the purpose of his existence and the unfathomable mystery of the creator. So what is a man to do but sell his soul for at least an answer to the question of who is in charge of all this and what do I get out of it? Enter Mephistopheles, in the form of woman, to offer Faust the inevitable bargain. Amusingly the pact that will offer up Faust’s soul to the devil appears in the form of an endless service agreement contract. (Schooled to ignore such windows of copious indecipherable text, who knows how many of us have already sold our souls!) Even Faust doesn’t take much time to contemplate the fine print before he attaches his electronic signature. There is a wonderful image of his fingerprint–in red–growing and glowing until it encompasses the entire stage.
The play offers the potential for much humor, but in this first performance the audience was listening, really listening, and likely hesitated to make a sound lest some of the more delicately delivered text got swamped. There is a threshold below which even the most seductively delivered line loses its impact, as in the point where you can’t quite hear the words. Faust is a poetic feast of text that deserves to be savored.
But it’s also a morality play, a medieval/Tutor lesson for the masses in what it means to be a creature under God’s dominion. Or not. So, the audience, we mortals, both deliver, and receive, that message. Who else but we and our world is up there on those fast moving screens. So, a great deal more of this play could be delivered directly to the assembled. The play has the potential to evoke more response particularly in a lovely sequence that tours the seven deadly sins. We could see more of ourselves in this show. Literally.
William Beddoe as Faust clearly recognizes the magnitude of the role as he throws himself into Faust’s tormented soul, drawn by desire, barred by guilt, with gusto. Not an easy task, yet he manages these transitions with a mix of abandon and restraint. Beddoes’s Faust is simply trying to pull it all together. What is the meaning of this Internet of so many things? Its offerings are unlimited, and yet when he tries to claim it, out pops one of the devil’s minions. Steph Goodwin as Mephistopheles has no less challenging a role as his seductress and servant of the devil. Again, is she here to merely collect another soul for her master, or does she harbor some sympathy for this tormented mortal?
When Mephistopheles approaches Faust in his final tormented hour she utters the word “despair,” and we are reminded that all seven sins were surpassed by that ultimate transgression. No matter what is inflicted, or self-inflicted, upon a suffering humankind, the individual must not give up. Of all sins in this modern world is despair still the greatest?
#Faustus asks big questions of us, and of itself as a production. The questions are not all as yet framed with clarity. But the Fringe is a forum for progress. Shows stretch and grow. #Faustus is a feast of possibilities. A rich text, boasting good performers, with Andrew Alexander’s imaginative field of technology in its service, and a boldness of vision by director Graham Price that even if at the moment is seen through a glass darkly, promises to illuminate a dark web of discoveries. What is the modern equivalent of selling your soul to the devil? Becoming an Internet troll? Is that the hell that awaits Faust? Barred from the realms of Paradise, condemned to a shadow existence, a half-life of eternity never to be extinguished, like a Facebook page of the departed for which no one has the password to sign off. #Faustus is a show not to be missed, for what it offers in the present, and what is likely to be its future genesis.
Plays at Arts Court Theatre…
Plan B Production by Kit Marlowe
William Beddoe – Faust
Steph Goodwin – Mephistopheles
Director & Design: Graham Price
Dramaturgy & Video: Andrew Alexander
Stage Manager: Donna Price
This article originally appeared in Capital Critics’ Circle on June 15, 2018, and has been reposted with permission.