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Evil Comes in Velvet Smoking Jackets/The Zombie Geese

In case you’ve been missing my long-running zombie theme, don’t worry…it’s back.

But first, let’s talk about evil.  Or more specifically, Faust.  That is, the performance of Faust that is currently running at the Young Vic in London.  Though it seems some reviewers weren’t that impressed, they’ve been shown up by the good old viewing public, who have ensured this production has been consistently sold out.  Luckily there are still a few returns, which is how I found myself on the upper balcony last Saturday night.

I’d never seen Faust before, so on that score I can’t make a comparison.  In contest with every other live production I’ve ever seen, however, it comes out with a strong running lead.  This is an acrobatic Faust, a Faust with trapeze and trampolines.  It might sound completely incongruous, but watching this show make full use (and I do mean full use) of the auditorium made even the most creative applications of theatre space I’ve seen up until now feel static and constricted.  (Did I mention that I used to volunteer for a theatre in the round, or that I spent my youthful summers touring with theatre programs where we performed at summer camps and farmer’s markets, in the line at Shakespeare festivals, and once on the Golden Gate Bridge?  Or that my fellow classmates and I each directed a show in a teeny black box theatre at Sarah Lawrence one year?  I’ve seen some interesting things done with space.)

Lots of reviewers have compared this production with Cirque du Soleil, I assume because there is aerial work in it.  Well, the Faust aerial work is damn fine, but much of it doesn’t hold a candle to Cirque du Soleil.  On the other hand, though those productions are beautiful spectacles, they never left me pondering the nature of good and evil, of love, desire, sacrifice and betrayal, the way this play does (nor do they set out to accomplish that).  This is a play with acrobatics built in, not acrobats conveying a story.

It also includes the most startling stage illusion I have ever seen.  I think I may have grabbed the guy next to me when it happened–all I know is, he and the woman who was with him decided to switch places at the interval.  The physicality of the show is its major strength; even just watching it I was exhausted at the end.  It really was engaging for every moment of its two hours.  I felt there was less applause than the show deserved, though personally I was so drained after having been involved by such an immersive performance that applause didn’t seem the right reaction.  If there were a way to convey approbation through utter silence I would have done so, because so much more than applause was deserved.

And what better way to represent evil than a sophisticated velvet smoking jacket, Mefisto’s sartorial choice?  Smitten.  (One of the characters also gets to wear an evil red velvet bathrobe for a while.  Almost as good.)

I could go on about this for hours–costumes, stage design, lighting, music–all impressive for a variety of reasons.  And the writing!   It is rare, really rare, that a preformance resonates so fully as all the things theatre is meant to be.  Okay, done.  I’ll just say that I actually for once in my life shelled out the money for a programme, and leave it at that.

Right, zombie geese.  The place: St James’s Park.  The time: late afternoon-ish.  The geese: zombies.

Ordinary geese, by which I mean Canadian geese and the grey geese they get here in England, make a noise like “HAAAAAWWWWNK! HAAAAAAWWWNK!  HAAAAAAAWWWWNK!”

There are plenty of perfectly ordinary geese living in St James’s Park.  There are also a variety of ornamental geese from various regions of the world, including one species that is all-white with black-tipped wings.  Absolutely gorgeous birds.  I watched them with my friend for a while.  (I’ve known this friend since I was six.  We occasionally get accused of regressing.)  Then we noticed the white geese were making a strangely muffled, raspy noise like “Heeeeeeengh, heeeeeeengh, heeeeeeeengh”.  We looked at the geese.  We looked at each other.  We looked at the geese.  “Heeeeeeengh, heeeeeeengh, heeeeeeeengh.”

“Zombie geese!” we squealed, and proceeded to imitate them for the rest of the day.

They turned out to be a species called Ross’s Goose, and are a migratory species native to northern Canada, the southern United States and Mexico.  Or so the sign claimed.  The geese probably ate its brains and replaced it with that innocuous description to draw innocent passersby into their trap.  Heeeeeengh, heeeeeeengh, heeeeeengh.

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