BWW Review: DR. FAUSTUS at McAulay Studio, Hong Kong Arts Centre
Lymari Alberts' set design is powerful in its simplicity. The staging is spacious as effects and props are minimal, giving full focus to the band and agile cast. The audience sit intimately around Faustus' summoning circle of bloodied symbols, which remain visible throughout the whole performance. A constant reminder of his harrowing deal, perhaps.
Throughout the show, the audience is enticed by the players to participate. It's not the nerve-wracking type of audience participation, either. It's done well and is effective in making the audience attentive. In the unrelenting eye contact, dressing up, even possibility of having to speak some lines, it's clear that the inclusion of the audience also gives a comic energy to the tragic story. It highlights the modern-day relevance of the tale, whilst simultaneously making it more interesting and relatable. The audience must not sit are stare with blank expression and eyes glazed. They must heed the warnings being played out before them.
I was delighted to see the part of Mephistopheles being taken on by three different performers over the run of the show. First, we see Tiffany Leung's interpretation of the spirit. In her, Mephistopheles becomes of a feminine and kind nature in a bloodied white dress. After the deal has been settled, the spirit develops into Owen Liggett's versatile, agile and flippant jester. For me, Liggett is the driving force of the performance; he elevates the somewhat rough show to a professional tier with his multi-faceted scope of acting and musical skill. Starring alongside him is a triumphant Jan Brinks, who, in the role of Faustus, gives a hauntingly terrific performance. It feels like a real treat to be seated so up close to the stage, where you can see every detail of Faustus' face, like a painting wash with emotion. One of my favourite moments of the show saw Faustus being restrained by thick red rope, hanging in damnation, almost completely overhead the front row. Incredible!
In the conclusive years of Faustus' life, Mephistopheles becomes of a more serious and demanding character through Wendy Pitt. In all, a fine cast share the stage. I enjoyed seeing the performers ricocheting passion off each other, as it catered well to the relaxed and improvisational atmosphere of the show. Where there were some moments in the show which felt a tad amateur, - I did notice some of the timing was off, some singing out of tune - these all became quickly offset by the collaborative and creative spirit of the show.
Finally, accolades must also be given to the featured musicians, who maintained an eerie and unsettling atmosphere from start to finish. Violinist Genevieve Ameyom is joined by guitarist Joel Wilson, bassist Noriko Wantanabe and drummer Oliver Blackley. The quartet give a flavourful taste of Hong Kong's local musical scene, an energy that compliments the depth of morality and ethics well beloved in Doctor Faustus.
In all, the Hong Kong Theatre Company successfully achieves their goal to "create, produce and inspire exciting and imaginative theatre with this production of Doctor Faustus." I, for one, was impressed not only by the skills of the actors and musicians, but of their creativity and attention to detail with their intricate set design, handmade puppets and costumes.
The Artistic Director of Doctor Faustus, Vincent Warren, states "If we think of the play as not about any particular religious ideology, but about choices, then I think we get to the heart of something far more expansive in its scope and reach." In retelling Faustus with the 21st Century view in mind, we can certainly see why its importance continues to resurface and resonate, especially amongst all the confusion and conflict that comes with modern-day life. In all, Warren's production is a unique one, as it encapsulates and grabs its audience by the mind and heart with the profound question: how would you behave, in Faustus shoes?