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Faustus

Dundee Rep
4 stars
Bedazzled was Peter Cook and Dudley Moore’s 1960s swinging London take on Christopher Marlowe’s soul-selling tragedy. Forty years on, Rupert Goold and Ben Power’s audacious conceptual re-appropriation of Marlowe’s original for Headlong Theatre puts another very British double act in the frame of that old immortality routine.

Marlowe’s florid yarn of faith and false promises is cut-up with an imagined account of Brit-art enfant terribles Jake and Dinos Chapman’s real-life taboo-busting when, following their sculpture, Hell, they ‘rectified’ Goya’s war etchings with drawn-on faces of puppy-dogs and clowns.

As Faustus’ lab folds in on itself to become the YBAs’ uber-cool white cube, the necromancer’s craving for immortality is mirrored by the Chapmans’ conscious courting of controversy. Beyond the art world’s fetish for fly-on-the-wall documentation, an immigrant camera-woman pricks the conscience of at least one of the brothers.

Much of the second half is set among the aftermath of the 2001 Turner Prize, won by Martin Creed’s A Light Switch Going On And Off. Here Faustus and Mephistopheles press the flesh as the Chapmans mull over their defeat.

Another Turner nominee, Derek Jarman, pulled a similar trick in his film Jubilee when he transposed Queen Elizabeth I to a punk London bombsite. Here it’s an even cleverer sleight of hand, even if some dialogue sounds crass in its keenness to make its point.

Yet, when an epitaph is projected reminding us of the 2004 fire in which Hell and a shed-load of other priceless artworks perished, while the scribbled-on Goyas survived, its Hammer horror flourish really is the stuff of legend. Especially as you know full well that somewhere in Hoxton, Jake and Dinos are wetting themselves with laughter.

The Herald, November 14th 2007

ends

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