Icelandic company Vesturport created a depth-defying Metamorphosis at the Lyric Hammersmith, turned Romeo And Juliet into a Moulin Rouge-inspired circus in the West End and transformed Woyzeck into a nightmarish trip at the Barbican theatre. Now the physical theatre company has brought a new version of Faust to the Young Vic in all its gruesome, devilish glory.
Loosely adapted from Goethe’s version of the iconic tale and told in a mixture of prose and verse, Vesturport’s writers have set the story in a retirement home. Fairy lights frame the windows and snow falls lightly beyond the four walls within which the elderly residents and Greta, the innocent and wide-eyed nurse reside.
This is home to Johann (Thorsteinn Gunnarsson), a once famous actor who played all the major roles other than Faust. An innocent looking Christmas tree sparks a night of hellish drama when the old man decides to hang himself using the decorations adorning the tree. Johann is offered another chance by the devil, who takes him to be the actual Faust, and the well known story unfolds on the Young Vic stage with circus tricks, rock singing demons and grotesque stage make-up enhancements.
A net suspended over the audience’s heads houses corset-wearing devils who bound around above the audience with black winged spines, showing off their acrobatic skills and temping the helpless Johann on stage. Actors jump off walls and fall through the stage only to bounce back up. Trap doors supply surprises and harnesses allow for impossible movements.
Hilmir Snaer Gudnason as the devil, or Mefisto as he prefers to be called, is a frightening personification of evil, bent over and pale with a compelling but threatening glint in his eye. Although he is backed by a pair of demon sidekicks – Asmodeus (Björn Hlynur Haraldsson) and Lilith (Niona Dögg Filipusdóttir), who miss no opportunity to torment violate and torture – the trio have a pantomime feel that resonates throughout the production.
Vesturport’s quirky individual touches are arguably more important to the production than the actual story, which is somewhat sidelined to make room for the circus performances. Synchronised wheelchair dancing, grandma zombies and Mefisto’s sarcastic wit add humour to the dark story, and brushes of magic and surrealism paint the piece as strange and trippy as you would expect.
The icing on Vesturport’s cake comes from the help of Nick Cave and Warren Ellis who have composed a soundtrack that transforms the action from dreamlike to hellish in a few dissonant chords.