REVIEW: The Faustus Project (The Basement)

Review by Tim George

Iana Grace in The Faustus Project

[Hell is Other People]

Everybody knows the story of Faust. Smart guy wants to gain more power, conjures the devil, sells his soul and takes too long to understand his folly.

It’s been replayed endlessly, from the original Christopher Marlowe play, through The Devil and Daniel Webster, Frankenstein, and the Al Pacino scream-athon The Devil’s Advocate.

It’s a story that has been played out so long that it arguably takes something else to bring an audience in. The Faustus Project is a re-write of Marlowe’s play, with a twist: the lead actor is different for every show, and has not rehearsed with the rest of the cast.

This to both comedic and thematic effect: on the one hand, we get the tension of actors corpsing (breaking character for the plebs); on the other, having an actor with no control over his cast-mates or understanding of the choreography plays into Faust’s predicament. At first, [INSERT NAME] and the audience are having fun as they makestheir way through the text.

As the action builds, the actor is called upon to do more and more. While the show is funny, the bridge between them and the audience is destroyed. By the end, they are stuck onstage, at the mercy of the show.

It’s a fun idea, which skirts the edge of just being a gimmick. The tension of the show’s premise certainly increases concentration, which forced this reviewer to really focus on the rhythms of Marlowe’s more labyrinthine passages.

Director Caleb Wells makes good use of the Basement’s theatre space: time passages are signaled on a chalk board; props are utilitarian; and characters pop up from unexpected places (the ceiling, the audience). It’s probably not a lot of fun for [INSERT NAME] but a lot of fun for the audience.

The show’s balance between Marlowe and its conceit feels a little too even. There are times that the text is undercut by the hi-jinks, and vice-versa, leaving the showing feeling a bit too neat and clean. It’s a small thing, but it’s been bouncing around my brain all night.

Wells, Courtney Bassett, Iana Grace, Jaime McDermott and Kelaan Schloffel-Armstrong play the rest of the characters. Because the focus is on [INSERT NAME] and their struggles, the cast merge together a bit. McDermott really goes to town as one/a couple of Lucifer’s minions (they play so many different characters it’s hard to tell if it’s the same character).

In the end, The Faustus Project is a lot of fun. I would recommend seeing it twice, just for the novelty of seeing multiple terrified people play the part. The show is basically onstage schadenfreude, and a lot of the glee is based on watching someone who thinks they know what they’ve gotten themselves into realise that they really don’t. Just like Faust. See? Theme!

The Faustus Project plays until 3 June. Details see The Basement

SEE ALSO: Theatreview.org.nz review by Johnny Givins

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