Faust in Wapping

The man is already naked and lashed to the chair when I arrive. The crowd know that this is wrong in so many ways, but their masks hide whatever it is they might be thinking. We are all free to jostle for a better view of this ritual, his exposure.

I can feel sweat in my groin as I stagger through the gates and out of the wasteland. The air cools my face, but my baggage weighs me down and I am heavy on my feet. I am alone again, and immediately the images I have left behind begin to distort and fade.

The bar is too familiar. People from other parts of my life appear right in front of me. How is it possible that they be here too? Sometimes they recognise me, and sometimes they ignore me. Either way, they disappear just as quickly. With no-one to talk to, I turn around and give the musicians my attention. Their fashions, and the décor of the room, have been carefully picked. Observing the other clientele, I see they are totally credulous. With their hats at jaunty angles, it is clear that their outfits have been carefully chosen too. It is as if they are just playing the part of illicit revellers in this underground den. The feeling of solitude returns as I begin to think that this is just another installation.

Through the door, and suddenly we find ourselves outside, walking through a field. The masked faces in the crowd carry me with them like a wave. No time to stop and think about what we have just seen.

The man is already naked and lashed to the chair when I arrive. The crowd know that this is wrong in so many ways, but their masks hide whatever it is they might be thinking. We are all free to jostle for a better view of this ritual, his exposure. His tormentor circles with apparent menance… but is that a glint of benevolence in his eye? Peering through this mask and the wire fence, I cannot be sure. Two hundred white faces look on, without emotion, as the man in the chair is beaten, tortured, broken over the back of the chair. His adversary flies around him like a bat.

Whatever happens next, it is never what I expect. A man abruptly eats an apple handed to him by a woman – He devours it whole and complete, including the core. Then he pours a jug of water over himself (and me), and tries to ravage her. She just laughs, and conceals herself under the blanket.

These grotesque masks bring out a feral side. Women scamper past me down corridors like rats. Men push open doors and barge past me. And they do so with such purpose of stride and movement, I begin to wonder whether they are fellow voyeurs like me, or perhaps undercover performers. And yet even I am changed. I don’t run like the others… but I become a kind of sociopath, wilfully invading the privacy of the rooms I find. I steal sweets from a jar that is clearly not meant for me, and rip a bible page off the wall. When I find some cards on a table spelling the word ‘SLOTH,’ I change them to read ‘SLUT’. I follow a girl into a hotel room, and sit on the bed while she undresses.

I ignore the ostentatious coffin of baby, which is easy to find, and head to the upper floors. I spend delightful clandestine moments alone in a labyrinth of corridors and side rooms. I learn to turn the handle of every door I find. Most are locked, but every now and then a few open for me, and I slip into the darkness. I find an archive, with rows and rows of shelves stacked with identical files. A single lamp struggles to light the whole room, but only I am looking.

These people seem to defy gravity, as they pirouette across walls and ceilings. In a roadside diner, somewhere in Small Town America (I know where we are, because the waitress wears roller skates), a man chases a woman under tables and over the counter. She welcomes his advances, and yet somehow she fears him, and cannot allow him to come as close as she would like. This conflict persists throughout all the interactions in this place. Lust strolls past me on the kerbside, but violence and resentment lurks in every dark corner. They jump out for a moment, and then disappear into the shadows, like a mugging.

Down in the bar, and there is a palpable apprehension among us all. We know we have bought into something we do not understand. We know we have taken a risk, but we are sure that we will be strong enough to resist the conjuring tricks of these people. But then they force these white masks onto our faces, and shove us into an elevator. Its grate smashes against the wall with a clatter that makes us all jump. I want so desperately to understand and unlock their plan for us, but when we are separated from one another, it is clear that this will not be possible. Things will happen that they will not show me. I hear laughter and screams echoing down corridors, and throughout, the feeling never leaves me that somewhere else, on another floor, there is some wild act of debauchery taking place, from which I have been excluded.

A set of winding stairs, and a weed-riddled track. Now I am at the same gates once more, but I do not recognise them. A burly man lets me in, as I sidestep a group of twitching, anxious youths. They offer me money for something I do not yet possess. I pass through, and although they clamour to follow, their path is blocked. And then I am alone again, standing outside a church. I have lost my sense of direction. I am late, confused.

I’ve just spotted some interesting writing on the performance by Patrick Judd at the London Theatre Blog. He also stole sweets…. I caught one of the last performances of Faust by the inimitable Punchdrunk. However, The Red Death Is Coming, so don’t miss it.

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