WITTENBERG To 1 October.


by David Davalos.

Gate Theatre above The Prince Albert Pub 11 Pembridge Road W11 3HQ To 1 October 2011.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Sat 3pm.
Audio-described 24 Sept 3pm.
Captioned 27 Sept.
Post-show Discussion 13 29 Sept.
Runs 2hr 30min One interval.

TICKETS: 020 7229 0706.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 3 September.

Enjoyable travesty of history – if not quite Travesties.
Tom Stoppard’s 1974 play Travesties makes, through brilliant theatrical comedy, serious points about memory and the relation of revolution in arts and society.

To say American David Davalos doesn’t reach the same heights of theatrical and mental imagination still leaves plenty of space, which he fills entertainingly, if sometimes with excess detail.

His idea is intriguing. In 1517 Martin Luther, the religious revolutionary who largely created Protestantism, nailed his 95 theses – challenges to the Catholic Establishment – to the church-door in the German university town of Wittenberg.

Wittenberg’s reputation also made it a natural setting for the less historical Dr John Faustus, seller of his soul, and for the education of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark.

His presence provokes comic quotes (perhaps too many; some over-obviously forced). But the best joke is seeing how he cannot make up his mind. And he’s put in a situation where decisive action’s necessary: playing tennis against one Laertes from Paris University.

It makes for a very palpable parallel to Hamlet’s last-act duel. Vacillation’s more to the fore when the young prince is caught between Luther, man of faith, and Faustus, temperamentally given to questioning and doubt. The contrast finds expression in their attitudes to the astronomical ideas of Copernicus – who, being Polish, occasions another joke.

Humour and seriousness coincide throughout. Luther’s notorious constipation, the Faust legend’s women – the ‘Eternal Feminine,’ and others suggest Goethe’s Faust, though Marlowe’s Faustus predominates; his unsatisfied desire to possess Helen as more than paramour is paramount.

Sophie Brittain’s seen in the distance of Oliver Townsend’s design, which keeps altering the stage’s depth, creating an overall cramped feel for Christopher Haydon’s lively production, or climbing over the tennis net with a spontaneity the mind-widening men never achieve. Andrew Frame’s Luther is duly serious though restrained, Sean Campion’s Faust (an academic with a gig down the local hostelry) playful, Edward Franklin’s Hamlet youthfully serious.

Finally, he’s recalled to Elsinore where his father’s unexpectedly died. We know how much life’s about to throw at him, and how the arguments of Luther and Faustus’ minds will ricochet. It gives a serious dying strain.

John Faustus: Sean Campion.
Hamlet: Edward Franklin.
Martin Luther: Andrew Frame.
Eternal Feminine: Sophie Brittain.

Director: Christopher Haydon.
Designer: Oliver Townsend.
Lighting: Mark Howland.
Sound/Music: Tom Mills.
Assistant director: Melanie Spencer.

2011-09-05 11:38:23

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