Brighton Fringe 2012
A retelling of Goethe’s Faust, using a chorus of musicians, song and modern rhyme to bring the original story into a new generation. Fantastic physicality and a polished production seem to hinder any emotional concern for the characters and story of the piece, however, the company played well to their strengths and worked hard to bring tuneful music, modern and classical rhyme and physicality to life.
Faust is a tale with the scope to be told in a thousand different ways, it is wonderful material to go back to again and again and always search for each practitioners new approach to the text. Dumbwise have done just this and with a cast of seven have created a musical experience through the story of Faust’s greed and subsequent demise.
The performance is beautifully constructed and choreographed. A chorus of musicians appear to Mephistopheles’ every command, with a flick of his hand it feels like the musicians are flung onto the stage and everything within the reality of the theatre space works to his every whim. This is an interesting piece of physical work and the timings of all performers were so exact that each one of these devices perfectly created the desired effect.
The music written for the piece was very nice, there were no stand out tunes, but rather they gave a good atmosphere to the work as a whole. Particularly clever were the songs that put a latin chanting chorus behind modern text accompanied but a double bass and other string instruments.
Most, if not all, the text in the show was given in rhyme using a mixture of modern language and a more traditional linguistic style. This became confusing as to where the company were trying to set their piece. The crimes that Gretchen is executed for only make sense if set at the time when the text was originally written. A decision to use modern text throughout the rhyme would have been interesting, however, when this was confused with classical language it made the piece feel a little disjointed and without a flow that was so evident in its physicality.
I felt that the piece was a little constrained by its concept. While, extremely strong and polished, I felt that the actors were limited within their roles and the rhyme of the text. Alex Mugnaioni as Mephistopheles felt particularly choreographed throughout the show, whilst an interesting character choice this restricted his delivery of the text to force the rhyme into his speech rather than concerned with what he was saying. This was a problem for the piece as a whole, but was especially noticeable when the rhyme was too simple and still being forced out of the performers. Particular note must be given to Eilidh Debonnaire at Gretchen who seemed for find a balance between her emotional journey and the constraints of the production as a whole.
The piece could also be enhanced by some gentle cutting towards the beginning, as the end of the show felt crammed into the last 15 minutes. The songs were mostly used more as exposition of the characters rather than as a means to push the story along, this however meant that the tale had to be crammed around the songs and the piece dragged on towards the end as they were trying to finish the story.
This was a very polished and tight production with an interesting concept holding it together, the music gave an engaging atmosphere and flow to the piece, however the concept seemed to be a bit of an obstruction to the emotional reality of the performance.