Saturday, November 18, 2006

Theatre Review : Faust - Punchdrunk Theatre Co - 21 Wapping Lane (dir Felix Barrett & Maxine Doyle 18/10/06)

All audience members are given a mask to wear, then you enter a lift and choose which floor of five you wish to stop at. You get out into a darkened space and wonder what exactly is happening, what you are supposed to do. Then you see a movement, and you realise that those people without masks are actors, and you start to watch them, to follow them. You have been told at the outset that the play takes place on five floors of the building - you have been given a brief plan. It is up to you to work out how to move from floor to floor, how to engage with the action. You pick up snippets as actors pass you, then, finally, you discover a floor where the narrative is beginning to make sense. Slowly, you begin to recognise characters - Faust, Mephistopheles and Gretchen, and you are gradually drawn into their maelstrom and down, down into Hell. The end. Audience, shellshocked, not quite sure if they should applaud as there is no conventional signs for a curtain-call.

But then the clever bit...the play starts immediately all over again! The pointillist picture that you have built up in the first performance can now be reinforced by following whatever narrative thread you want - follow a character, a plot line or keep it random. You have the opportunity to explore areas you missed first time round - but you still won't see it all.

What this production does is not just entertain (which it does, magnificently). It completely turns on its head the relationship between performers and the audience, so that one feels almost complicit, voyeuristic, in the destruction of Gretchen and Faust.

All performers were excellent: all dance, no words, not letting the audience get in their way. Sarah Labigne (Gretchen) and Fernanda Prata (Martha) oozed sexuality, whilst Vinicus Salles as Mephistopheles was suitably threatening.

The only reasonable reaction to such a production is to want to see more of the same type. This should be the hottest ticket in London this autumn, and Punchdrunk can only go on to greater things in the future.

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