Review - The Last Faust


Daniel White doesn't have to sell his soul to review The Last Faust...

The Last Faust is Humm’s Gesamtkunstwerk, his total work of art, and offers an unparalleled artistic examination of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s tragic masterpiece. In this mammoth project, Humm uniquely considers both Faust Part One and Part Two with the intent to make both books more accessible and apply its universal themes to contemporary culture.

This article has caused me problems, hence the delay in writing it, as The Last Faust was released this week on digital platforms. I have struggled to put my thoughts into a cohesive review and also wrestled with the reasons why. There is a great deal to be excited about and, when the play opened in London, it received much adulation and acclaim. I say "play" but Philip Humm would probably prefer it referred to as "an artistic expression that attempts to bring Goethe's masterpiece into a more culturally relevant setting." The casting demands attention, not least because Stephen Berkoff is at the top of it and, as a long time fan of the story of Faust, I relished the opportunity of seeing a new take on the well known story. 

So first, the good points and there are some elements of The Last Faust which really work. The staging is sparse and futuristic, but yet there is still something antiquated about it, and the use of a video screen and narrative is a fantastic idea. Berkoff is wonderful as the doomed, haunted heir apparent to Dr Faust. So too is the idea of setting the play in the not to distant future, a future where everyone is connected and individuality is shared with all. Placing Faust and his desperate search for meaning in such a world is effective and strikingly underlines the original Goethe work. Mephisto, portrayed as a hedge fund manager, is a wonderfully impudent dig at the uber wealthy and those that are viewed as causing a great deal of hardship in more recent years. 

The problems start arising when Humm tries to move too far from the original plotting and text of Goethe's original. We have a story set in a dystopian future and yet Faust timehops backwards and all of a sudden figures from Greek Mythology are thrust at us. Faust witnesses the fall of Icarus (who is actually his son) and Mephisto converses with the three wise women. The sparseness of the staging throughout is suddenly interrupted by the appearance of a real horse on stage and, again, no particular reason is offered for this. The Last Faust is a great conceptual idea but falls far short of the grandiose claims that are made by Humm. It attempts to offer "unparallelled artistic examination" and yet barely scratches the surface. Humm is a tremendously talented artist but sadly his lack of experience with plotting and story telling is all too apparent. The Last Faust meanders around the stage like a lost puppy and lurches into such self-important, self-satisfying artistic flummery that I lost interest and mentally wandered off. Because the Greek mythology is not explained, it makes no sense that it should be part of Faust's journey and, by the time we reach the final moments of his life, it doesn't seem to matter any more! Humm seems to be so obsessed with creating memorable imagery and haunting moments that he has forgotten to tell anything resembling a story.

However, this isn't just me as a film buff and theatre lover getting ranty just because the play didn't work for me. The Last Faust does not deliver on its own promises and, irrespective of how arty a work is, it has to deliver on its own stated reason for existence.

To go back to PR statement at the top of this article - "The Last Faust is Humm’s Gesamtkunstwerk, his total work of art, and offers an unparalleled artistic examination of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s tragic masterpiece" (it doesn't). "In this mammoth project, Humm uniquely considers both Faust Part One and Part Two with the intent to make both books more accessible" (it doesn't) "and apply its universal themes to contemporary culture" (it doesn't.)

The final nail in the Faustian coffin was the revelation that the AI software and systems designed by Faust had 'gone sentient' and had decided to eradicate all human life as we know it. If you are going to steal ideas from The Terminator films then you better have a damn good reason for doing so. "Doing a Skynet" may work for Cameron but it completely finished off The Last Faust as anything other than an over bloated act of artistic nose blowing. I am sure that the creatives who like this sort of thing will accuse me of narrow mindedness or that I just missed the whole point. Maybe, and I am a great believer in artistic output and the creation of cross platformed work that exists because it needs to.

However, in my view, The Last Faust is an unnecessary journey that breaks no new ground, doesn't say anything new and has been done far better in much older productions. My takeaway from watching this is that I like my Faust pure and undefiled by meddling artistic hands.



Images - Philip Humm

The Last Faust is available now on Digital Download including Amazon, Apple and Sky Store