Icelandic theatre company Vesturport first made an impact over here in 2003 with an aerial Romeo and Juliet. Its eye-catching approach opened London doors for actor/director Gisli Orn Gardarsson who has since brought us inspired productions of Kafka’s Metamorphosis and Buchner’s Woyzeck.

His latest venture reinvents Goethe’s life’s work as a disturbing Christmas time occurrence in an old people’s home where the residents are waiting to die and retired actor Johann is bemoaning the fact that, during a long and successful career, he never had the opportunity to play Faust. Encouraged by a fellow resident, he starts to enact it, but, frustrated by the knowledge that he can never possess the beautiful young nurse Greta, he tries, instead, to hang himself with the Christmas fairylights. His attempt is foiled (or is the whole episode a brink of death experience?) by a neck-crunching Mefisto, ripping off a latex mask to emerge from a recent corpse and offer him the chance of a moment of perfect happiness with Greta in exchange for his soul. 

The production is a collaborative effort but isn’t totally successful. The basic theme of the mammoth original is still there, though confusing, but what fascinates is the gymnastics of the Icelandic cast who wade across the enormous fishnet suspended over the stalls to the atmospheric music provided by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis. Every so often, a performer lands in the crisscross mesh, seemingly from nowhere, with the explosive force of a shot fired from a cannon. Walls are scaled and the floor holds its own secrets. 

Not without its moments of wry humour – a synchronised wheelchair workout to Wham’s Last Christmas, the decrepit oldies transformed into seductively athletic, punkish devils – but, despite a touching performance from Thorsteinn Gunnarsson as the lovesick Johann, ultimately this is more show than coherent content.

Young Vic, The Cut, SE1 8LZ
0207 922 2922
Tube: Southwark/ Waterloo
Until 30th October
£10.00 – £27.50

Review: Louise Kingsley