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
Taylor Swift won Best International Solo Female (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith arrives at the Brit Awards (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn's beheading in BBC Two's Wolf Hall

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Follow every rainbow: Julie Andrews in 'The Sound of Music'
film Elizabeth Von Trapp reveals why the musical is so timeless
Arts and Entertainment
Margot Robbie rose to fame starring alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street

Film Hollywood's new leading lady talks about her Ramsay Street days

Arts and Entertainment
Right note: Sam Haywood with Simon Usborne page turning
musicSimon Usborne discovers it is under threat from the accursed iPad
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
A life-size sculpture by Nick Reynolds depicting singer Pete Doherty on a crucifix hangs in St Marylebone church
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Escalating tension: Tang Wei and Chris Hemsworth in ‘Blackhat’
filmReview: Chris Hemsworth stars as a convicted hacker in Blackhat
Arts and Entertainment

Oscar voter speaks out

film
Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars race for Best Picture will be the battle between Boyhood and Birdman

Oscars
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn (Claire Foy), Thomas Cromwell (Mark Rylance)
tvReview: Wolf Hall
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Meighan of Kasabian collects the Best Album Award
music
Arts and Entertainment
Best supporting stylist: the late L’Wren Scott dressed Nicole Kidman in 1997
film
Arts and Entertainment
Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan as Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Mick Carter (Danny Dyer) and Peggy Mitchell (Barbara Windsor)
tv occurred in the crucial final scene
Arts and Entertainment
Glasgow wanted to demolish its Red Road flats last year
architecture
Arts and Entertainment
Matthew Gravelle on trial for Danny Latimer's murder as Joe Miller in Broadchurch series two

Review: Broadchurch episode 7

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Barry Norman has predicted a Best Actor win for Michael Keaton at this Sunday's awards

oscars
Arts and Entertainment
The right stuff: 'Ukip: the First 100 Days'

Review: UKIP: The First 100 Days TV
Arts and Entertainment
Anastasia Steele with Christian Grey in his offices in Fifty Shades of Grey

film
Arts and Entertainment
Class act: Julia McKenzie and Keeley Hawes in 'The Casual Vacancy'

JK Rowling's story is a far better drama than it is a book

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Channel 4's Indian Summers

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The BBC's version of 'The Crimson Petal and the White'

Books

Arts and Entertainment
We will remember them: 'Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red' at the Tower of London

Art Police investigate abuse sent to Paul Cummins over Tower of London installation

Arts and Entertainment
Nicole Kidman was named worst actress for her performance as Grace Kelly in Grace of Monaco
film
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing in The Imitation Game; the film’s producer, Harvey Weinstein, said the UK government ought to honour its subject
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.

    HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

    Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

    Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
    How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

    Time to play God

    Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
    MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

    MacGyver returns, but with a difference

    Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
    Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

    Tunnel renaissance

    Why cities are hiding roads underground
    'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

    Boys to men

    The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
    Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

    Crufts 2015

    Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
    10 best projectors

    How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

    Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
    Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

    Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

    Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
    Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

    Monaco: the making of Wenger

    Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

    Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

    Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

    This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
    'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

    Homage or plagiarism?

    'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
    Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower