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Faust x 2 review at Watermill Theatre, Newbury – ‘a punchy retelling’

Ian McDiarmid in Faust X 2 at Watermill Theatre, Newbury

The legend of Faust(us) is one of the most captivating morality tales of them all – and Faust x 2, starring Ian McDiarmid working from his own adaptation, brings it into the 21st century.

The production, inspired by Philip Wayne’s translation of Goethe’s dramatic poem, sees an unkempt McDiarmid reciting his own words. He is a man of arrogance. Jacques Miche’s Mephisto, meanwhile, is a study in how ordinariness can conceal evil. He’s no monster, rather an unremarkable man dressed like a banker.

The same goes for Daisy Fairclough’s Gretchen; she is similarly unremarkable but she still captivates Faust to the point of obsession.

There is a cast of only three but the combination of designer Georgia Lowe’s video wall, with its two illuminated cubes, Elliot Grigg’s lighting and Richard Hammarton’s sound design give Lisa Blair’s production a powerful extra dimension, enhancing what might have otherwise felt static.

Zsolt Balogh’s video design is crucial in this regard, using text and images projected on the back wall to heighten the narrative. Biblical quotes punctuate the piece, as do stills and moving shots. The video is used as a document of the transaction between Faust and Mephisto.

Sometimes the audience has to work hard to work out what’s happening. Miche appears to take on the role of a young Faust when interacting with Gretchen, but this isn’t explained, and after Gretchen has been deflowered, in a harshly-lit and bloody sequence. we are told that she’s killed her mother and young sister when nothing in the story has indicated that. An extra line would have done it. The addition of a few more minutes would not have slowed Blair’s pacy production down and might have helped make things clearer.

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A punchy retelling of Faust for our age undermined by issues of clarity