Trivial sex

Rex Gibson

Two magnificent individual performances sustain Michael Bogdanov's spectacular re-working of Goethe's Faust, parts l and ll for the Royal Shakespeare Company.

Michael Feast's Faust metamorphoses from decrepit professor to cool dude as he abandons scholarship for the ceaseless pursuit of passion. Determined to plumb the depths of every human emotion, he ends as a wheelchair-bound monster, sans eyes, sans everything except the driving will to power.

Hugh Quarshie's fascinating Mephistopheles is an ever-present, audience-engaging ironist. He mocks the vanity of human wishes as the quest for "endless fun and titillation": qualities that Bogdanov delivers in full measure. Entertaining and theatrical, the only stretch of longeurs (the classical Greece episode) is aimiably excused by Mephistopheles: "we are all allegories".

The programme illustrations seem to promise a critique of the corrupting fantasies of the market economy. But unexpectedly, this is Bogdanov without the politics. Nearly every character is a caricature. Combined with Howard Brenton's clever jingling rhymes, this forfeits serious consideration of the abiding human puzzles of sex, money and death. Faust's search for self-gratification yields only trivialisation, and the production makes triviality the supreme human attribute.

A reminder for teachers. The style is often soft-porn and Exorcist, high in what my students call the "tits-out, bums and willies factor" In repertoire at Stratford-upon-Avon until January. Tickets: 01789 295623.

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