Theatre / FAUST - RSC, Stratford

Viewed from an orthodox Christian point of view, Goethe's Faust is a drama which takes two plays, six-and-a-half hours and a great deal of fidgeting around the cosmos in order to arrive at the wrong conclusion. Howard Brenton's new version, staged now by Michael Bogdanov in the Swan, makes a pointed if slightly laboured joke about this, teasing us with a retributive false-ending.

Once he has lost the long wager with Mephistopheles through his choked- out desire to freeze the present moment, Michael Feast's now aged Faust looks to have had it for good, as he topples from his wheelchair into the pit. The house-lights go up, the two main actors start to shake hands, but then a very Bogdanovian "real-life" row about modern audiences and textual accuracy erupts on-stage between the "Director" and the "Poet" and this results in the proceedings being wound back to incorporate "the old boy's last rewrite".

So, although Faust's CV would do credit to many an inhabitant of hell, he gets the Goethe Award for Tireless Activity in the shape of a permanent holiday in Heaven. As presented here, this is a kitsch-paradise where the wings are styrofoam, Josie Lawrence is the Virgin Mary, and the pertly- rumped boyish angels, dangling on trapezes, bring out the lustful scoutmaster in Satan. It looks the sort of place which would be purgatory for Goethe himself who when he wrote that "I should not know what to do with eternal bliss, if it did not present me with new problems and difficulties to overcome" seemed to have something more "Enlightenment" in mind than a camp gymnasium with hymns. Fine to satirise the ending, but not if people feel it trivialises what came before.

In Educating Rita, the heroine answers an essay question on how she would solve the staging problems of Ibsen's Peer Gynt with the answer "do it on the radio". The joke would work just as well with Goethe's Faust. From professorial study to a kinky Walpurgisnacht orgy that will leave you unable to look at plastic tubing in quite the same way; from a blood-spattered operating theatre of a Witches' kitchen to the world of Greek myth revisited. Negotiating the various transitions, Bogdanov's production shows what fluency can be achieved with trapezes, a tilting two-way mirror for supernatural visions and prying, a couple of screens for intimate close-ups and a very active trap at the centre of the stage.

What it does not give you is any sense of awe. With the exception of the Gretchen tragedy (where Sophie Heyman is very moving), the production, the script and the acting are happiest when playing up the comic aspects of the proceedings. Michael Feast's performance as Faust is certainly a feat of courage (he has some scenes of very exposed nakedness) but the rhetorical flourish of it was not always backed up with a sufficient sense of inwardness. As he progresses from a corduroy-scruff academic to a power- mad humpty-dumpty in a motorised wheelchair, you are never allowed to forget you are watching a performance. Even the scenes with Gretchen, where he is at his best, are spoiled by a wig that screams "Wig" at you in 16 languages.

Well worth the price of the ticket and the outlay of time, though, is Hugh Quarshie's elegantly suited and superbly funny Mephistopheles. He plays him as the coolest of cool customers, with a satanic sang froid that is always teetering on the edge of self-satire, however undignified his latest disguise. Let's hope he doesn't have to wait for his reward in heaven.

n Booking: 01789 295623

Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

TV
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
Arts and Entertainment
The audience aimed thousands of Apple’s product units at Taylor Swift throughout the show
musicReview: On stage her manner is natural, her command of space masterful
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Channel 4 is reviving its Chris Evans-hosted Nineties hit TFI Friday

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Harrison Ford plays Indiana Jones in The Last Crusade (1989)

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
A Glastonbury reveller hides under an umbrella at the festival last year

Glastonbury
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Miles Morales is to replace Peter Parker as the new Spider-Man

comics
Arts and Entertainment
The sequel to 1993's Jurassic Park, Jurassic World, has stormed into the global record books to score the highest worldwide opening weekend in history.

film
Arts and Entertainment
Odi (Will Tudor)
tvReview: Humans, episode 2
Arts and Entertainment
Can't cope with a Port-A-loo? We've got the solution for you

FestivalsFive ways to avoid the portable toilets

Arts and Entertainment
Some zookeepers have been braver than others in the #jurassiczoo trend

Jurassic WorldThe results are completely brilliant

Arts and Entertainment
An original Miffy illustration
art
Arts and Entertainment
Man of mystery: Ian McKellen as an ageing Sherlock Holmes
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Kitchen set: Yvette Fielding, Patricia Potter, Chesney Hawkes, Sarah Harding and Sheree Murphy
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Evans has been confirmed as the new host of Top Gear
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Top of the class: Iggy Azalea and the catchy ‘Fancy’
music
Arts and Entertainment
Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters performs at Suncorp Stadium on February 24, 2015 in Brisbane, Australia.

music
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Evans had initially distanced himself from the possibility of taking the job

TV
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
British author Matt Haig

books
Arts and Entertainment
Homeland star Damian Lewis is to play a British Secret Service agent in Susanna White's film adaptation of John le Carre's Our Kind of Traitor

Film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

    How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

    Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
    Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

    One day to find €1.6bn

    Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
    New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

    'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

    Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
    Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

    Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

    The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
    Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

    Historians map out untold LGBT histories

    Public are being asked to help improve the map
    Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

    Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

    This was the year of 24-carat Golden Oldies
    Paris Fashion Week

    Paris Fashion Week

    Thom Browne's scarecrows offer a rare beacon in commercial offerings
    A year of the caliphate:

    Isis, a year of the caliphate

    Who can defeat the so-called 'Islamic State' – and how?
    Marks and Spencer: Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?

    Marks and Spencer

    Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?
    'We haven't invaded France': Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak

    'We haven't invaded France'

    Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak
    Isis in Kobani: Why we ignore the worst of the massacres

    Why do we ignore the worst of the massacres?

    The West’s determination not to offend its Sunni allies helps Isis and puts us all at risk, says Patrick Cockburn
    7/7 bombings 10 years on: Four emergency workers who saved lives recall the shocking day that 52 people were killed

    Remembering 7/7 ten years on

    Four emergency workers recall their memories of that day – and reveal how it's affected them ever since
    Humans: Are the scientists developing robots in danger of replicating the hit Channel 4 drama?

    They’re here to help

    We want robots to do our drudge work, and to look enough like us for comfort. But are the scientists developing artificial intelligence in danger of replicating the TV drama Humans?
    Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

    Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

    'Heritage' is a loaded word in the Dixie, but the Charleston killings show how dangerous it is to cling to a deadly past, says Rupert Cornwell
    What exactly does 'one' mean? Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue

    What exactly does 'one' mean?

    Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue