Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Faust, as originally written, takes somewhere between 21 to 24 hours to perform (depending on who you ask). It’s also not the most sensical thing ever written, as Goethe worked on it throughout his lifetime and some weird contradictions got introduced into the text along the way. Despite all this, writer, director, and actor Glen Williamson has managed to condense the play down to a mere 90 minutes.
Williamson’s approach is to take on the role of storyteller—telling rather than showing a lot of the action, but taking on the roles of Faust, the demon Mephistopheles, and other characters during key moments or to deliver some of Goethe’s original dialogue. Willamson’s Mephistopheles is particularly charming, especially in moments where the character is uncomfortable or feels out of place.
Despite the break-neck pace Williamson sets, Beat the Devil! does still feel like it drags a little in places—but that seems more attributable to Goethe than anything (the man had no ability to self-edit). In his role of storyteller, Williamson does warn the audience when things are about to get a little confusing, and in his adaptation he has made the story as smooth and logical as one could hope for.
Beat the Devil! is a very dramatic piece, well played, and a great way to familiarize yourself with Faust without descending into the depths unguided.
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