This production of David Davalos’s WITTENBERG is a fast-paced, witty triumph of a play in which the views of an unformed young Hamlet (Alexander Butt) are bounced around between the worldly John Faustus (David Woodland) and the earnest Martin Luther (Nick Curnow). No surprise then that Hamlet spends much of the play in his tennis togs and in one high-energy scene imaginary tennis balls are volleyed at him thick and fast.
Woodland takes devilish delight in his role, playing Faust as a doctor feelgood who urges Hamlet and Luther to give in to their baser natures. His Faust takes great pleasure in pricking Luther’s plumpish pomposity and loosening his increasingly shaky adherence to Catholic doctrine, while Butt’s convincingly insecure Hamlet becomes putty in his hands and is easily moulded.
High-energy exchanges between Faust and Luther drive the play onwards with barely a lull while Lana Kershaw convincingly switches between playing several aspects of the more traditional roles of women, including busty beer wench, and participates in a riotous sex scene with Faustus.
The intellectual and philosophical word play in Richard Hilliar’s production serves to enhance the audience’s unfettered delight rather than bamboozle them – although theatregoers unfamiliar with the protagonists will find it worthwhile to do a quick “Greg Hunt” and look up Martin Luther, Faust and the Eternal Feminine on Wikipedia before they go.
The delicate set and lighting by Benjamin Brockman form a highly visual yet never distracting backdrop to the onstage action in this wonderfully intimate small theatre.
WITTENBERG plays at the Old Fitzroy Theatre until Saturday 25th January. Tuesday to Friday at 8pm, Sundays 5pm.