Queensland Theatre Company and the Bell Shakespeare’s immersion into necromancy, incest, rape, and self-mutilation somehow makes for a good night at the theatre.
Like Dr Faustus who in compact with Lucifer brings the dead to life, director Michael Gow has revived the Faust myth itself: that old and prolific parable of the spineless genius who wagers eternal damnation for lifelong debauchery.
Such a moral lesson in divine doctrine, pure invention, and ultimate power would normally have its limits on the stage. But the creative direction and sharp script is something to be admired. The set design and direction lend the play an appropriately vaudevillian character that (mostly) only enhances the essential tragedy.
For regular QTC playgoers it’s a surprise to see playwright Michael Gow has moved away from old local flavour of his previous seasons’ work (Toy Symphony, Away) and it’s a welcome move.
While the usual and enjoyable glimpses of Australiana come through in snippets of sexual repartee, Gow has largely immersed himself in the rich European origins of the Faust myth – a big move considering the contemporaries of the era he’s rubbing up against as well as the peers through the eons since who’ve all addressed the same fable – Shakespeare, Marlowe, Goethe, Mann (both Klaus and Thomas) and innumerable others.
He’s aided of course by a small and strong cast. John Bell puts his broad bearing and sea of wrinkles into the usual and infallible mix of playful command. Ben Winspear as Faustus carries his character believably from apotheosis to damnation while Kathryn Marquet does admirably in the unenviable role of persecuted teenage inamorata.
Also impressive is how engrossing it remains despite this fact that the Faustus myth is, for many, a familiar one. How do you entertain an audience of hundreds for an hour and a half when everyone knows it’ll end with Herr Doktor ultimately dragged to the underworld?
Ask the director, who seems to have a pretty good idea of how to accomplish precisely this. That is, until nearer the final act, when a tinge of melodrama creeps in, and the lead actors lose a bit of their puff. The climax of the play is well wrought but loses some intensity simply in scene length.
But it’s still hellishly good. After all, if there’s anything that Faustus tells, it’s that greatness has but a little price.
Powerhouse Theatre until 25 June