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FAUSTAFF – The Cockpit, London.

Faustaff03In Faust, the German legend, Faust sells his soul to the Devil in exchange for unlimited knowledge and the ability to do whatever he wants. He agrees to an eternity in hell, in exchange for power. The story has been retold many times, each version offering a slightly different take on what the story represents. Is it about the perils of wasting your talent? Is about our reluctance to accept responsibility over our own lives? The dangers of excessive pride? Mexican playwright Diego Sosa’s Faustaff, brings Faust into the present day and turns him into a crime writer called Gily Jacoby who sacrifices everything just to be famous.

Gily (Lesley Lightfoot) is an amusing, if wholly unlikable, character. Deluded about her abilities as a writer, taking responsibility only for her successes and never for her failures, and incredibly insecure. She’s angry with God, or her father, or both – in fact, she probably confuses the two. As in many versions of Faust, Gily never quite manages to repent or rid herself of her narcissism. Gily doesn’t change or learn anything during the course of the play. Lightfoot has the unenviable task of trying to inspire interest in this essentially shallow character, and unfortunately she doesn’t quite manage it. Although there are brief moments where Lightfoot shows some of Gily’s vulnerability, on the whole Gily comes across as stubbornly insincere, offering little for an audience to sympathise with.

Sosa makes it clear from the outset that the whole play might all be in Gily’s head. The opening scene is an imagined conversation between Gily and her cleaner, Gily frequently asks herself “is this in my head?”, and the other characters are all so much larger than life that they are almost certainly invented by the crime writer. One of the merits of Sosa’s play is that is raises questions about how hard it can be to distinguish real life from an imagined one, especially in an age where one’s presence on social media can seem as important as one’s day-to-day actions. However, even though it may well be on purpose, the fanciful characters who speak entirely in clichés eventually become exasperating.

By far the most rewarding scene is an exchange between Gily and the Devil (charismatically played by Eddie Chamberlin), who may just be a dark shade of Gily’s psyche. The pair talk in quick-fire riddles, never properly acknowledging each other, but answering each other nevertheless. Chamberlin presents the Devil as a hedonistic, skinny-jean wearing loafer, snaking around the minimal set and occasionally breaking the fourth wall. Chamberlin’s efforts to involve the audience help emphasise the fake-ness of the whole play, but not much else. I had hoped that the Devil might break into a monogloue, perhaps directly challenging the audience to think about how they delude themselves, and sacrifice virtue for social approval. But although these sorts of themes are hinted at during the course of the play, they aren’t explored, and Faustaff remains somewhat facetious.

Faustaff is certainly surreal, and at times quite funny. Gily’s delusions of grandeur are enjoyably cheesy, and when Gily and the Devil write a chapter of one of her novels, all the hilarious foibles of a writer whose success has gone to her head are laid bare. The two deliberately over-the-top detectives (Bernard O’Sullivan and Charles Timson) also draw some laughs – although they are a little unoriginal.

Although the idea of bringing Faust up to date, translating it into a tale about a wannabe celebrity and fantasist, is a good one – Faustaff is ultimately unsatisfying.

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Reviewed 19/11/15

By Andrea White
@AndieSuzanne

18th – 6th December 2015
The Cockpit, London, NW8 8EH.

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