The Basement Theatre’s latest offering describes itself as “hilarious, a little dangerous and a devilishly good time”.
And I’ve got to say, for the most part, they’re not wrong.
The Faustus Project, directed (and acted in) by Caleb Wells, opened earlier this week at one of Auckland’s favourite experimental theatre spots. Its basic premise is a chill rewrite of the original Christopher Marlowe play (guy sells soul to Lucifer in exchange for some good times and sick skills), with the added twist that the lead actor has never read the complete script, or rehearsed with the cast.
Every night sees a different actor take on the challenge, with Tuesday featuring Potato Stamp Megalomaniac’s Andrew Gunn.
The lead actor is complimented by a small cast and a pretty basic set. Mood and setting is created by washes of light and an upstage chalkboard. The chalkboard proves a rather handy prop, indicating the location of each scene as well as a cheat sheet countdown of Faustus’s dwindling years. Though for one of my theatre pals this did prove weirdly irking, as this countdown wasn’t always completely in sync with dialogue.
The mix of rehearsed and spontaneity in The Faustus Project definitely took me awhile to warm up to. Gunn seemed to approach the role with a balance of humour and effort, certainly showcasing his skills but never quite letting go. Injecting quite a few sly jokes but then also taking a backseat multiple times. In the end, I found myself more and more appreciating Gunn’s take. He gave the supporting cast a chance to shine and didn’t let the modern twist take away from the actual plot. Two particular standout moments highlights both these approaches.
In the first, Gunn flipped things around when he refused to follow Wells’ orders, instead telling him to open the box of grapes. Which in turn meant that Wells, rather than guest actor Gunn, suffered the classic gag of endless boxes inside one big one.
The ending proved to be Gunn’s other chance to shine. Dragged off stage bloody and screaming, the actor and the audience seemed to fully accept embody Dr Faustus for the first time.
The main fault of The Faustus Project was probably its lack of polishing. Due to the nature of the project, a nicely packaged clean show was never to be expected. However, this is a cast born out of University productions, and at times this really showed. All actors gave it their all (special shout out to Kelaan Schlöffel-Armstrong who got impressively physical) and undoubtedly showed skills and promise. But next to established actor Andrew Gunn, their differences in confidence and experience were at times quite apparent.
All in all, I’ve got to give props to The Basement Theatre for putting on a show like this. It’s always cool to see people trying something different, and I love that these fresh faces are expanding beyond student stages.
With a different actor every night until Saturday, the life of The Faustus Project is likely to be pretty varied – to the point where I’m quite tempted to go again, and again, and again.
Get your tickets to The Faustus Project here.