It’s difficult not to be charmed by Creation Theatre’s idea of tackling this version of the Faust legend in a bookshop. The play’s central theme of academic overachievement and its less spiritually salutary consequences are beautifully hosted in what becomes a sprawling, slightly labyrinthine study, with the audience tucked away among bookshelves stuffed with philosophy and law; and the dark intimacy of the basement venue adds a nice element of claustrophobia to the drama. The action is well-coordinated, the delivery crisp, and the demonic dancing surprisingly effective.
The play has always been regarded as problematic: a slightly staccato patchwork of quasi-comedic capering sandwiched between two spare, lyrical sections of stripped-down spiritual questioning – but this production, as you’d expect from Creation and from Director Charlotte Conquest’s form, is both accessible and entertaining. The interpretation of Faustus is a far from sympathetic one; he gets little credit for his prodigious learning, and appears from the start as pompous rather than scholarly; a self-regarding, stacks-dwelling geek whose inexperience leads him to lay everything on the line to taste some of the riper pleasures his dusty existence has so far lacked. I did miss the proud and impressive Faustus I’d seen in other productions, but I can’t really quarrel with this one – he pretty much deserves everything he gets, and Gus Gallagher delivered well, alternately posturing and cringing to good effect. Gwynfor Jones’ Mephistopheles was coolly sardonic, with wonderfully sudden flashes of evil and proper scariness, and the cast of five is very strong all round, making great use of masked anonymity to give the illusion of greater numbers, moving from bookish reserve to slick buffoonery to a kind of hellish disco act - for which praise is also due to movement director Aidan Treays.
So back to the question we’ve all had to ask ourselves at one time or another: where is there left to go after you’ve explored and mastered every branch of learning that Academe has to offer? Is the service of Satan the only option for further broadening of the soul’s horizons? Well, not necessarily; fortunately the Norrington Room also houses an extensive travel guide section.