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Devilishly good times at Wolsey

PUBLISHED: 14:26 11 February 2002 | UPDATED: 11:19 03 March 2010

THERE were rich pickings at the Wolsey this weekend as two lively and engaging story-tellers turned their attentions to two classics, one long-established, the other fast becoming so.

THERE were rich pickings at the Wolsey this weekend as two lively and engaging story-tellers turned their attentions to two classics, one long-established, the other fast becoming so.

The inventiveness of the Shifting Sands company (an apt name, if ever there was one) will certainly live on if any of Friday's clearly appreciative audience revisits the original Goethe or Marlowe, whose tales provided the basis for this unique retelling of Faustus, the man who made a pact with the Devil, the man who sold his soul for the world.

Unfamiliar with Goethe's version of the tale of this bored academic, it was only the squirts of Marlowe Gerry Flanaghan injected into his reworking of the morality tale that I recognised.

The soaring heights of Elizabethan rhetoric, however, were always plunged by this gangly fellow into moments of theatrical decompression as the action descended into clowning, farce and a humour that had more to do with 1970s family entertainers than with Shakespearean fools.

It struck me at times as though Neil Morrisey walked into the RSC and had the good fortune to bump into Max Wall. The result was something provocative and quite devilishly funny.

As Faustus, he was led through his futile heart's desires by the beguiling charms (and exotic enunciation) of a Brazilian Mephististophles, Eduardo Coelho. With his assistant, Paschale Straiton, whose endless energy in no precluded a fine, sensitive performance, they proved vital cogs in a well-worked, seamlessly choreographed display that gave us an enjoyable sense of sympathy with the Devil.

On Saturday, the Wolsey was rightly packed to witness Mike Maran's adaptation of Louis de Berniere's best-seller, Captain Corelli's Mandolin. This liltingly-voiced Scot took us on an assured (well-edited) tour of the baroque love adventures of Pelagia and Captain Antonio Corelli and Mandras, watched over her a world-weary father, Dr Iannis.

The tragedy and comedy of this little masterpiece was finely nuanced in the telling alone, but as he used just a smattering of props, his greatest companions proved to be Alison Stephens on mandolin and Anne Evans playing flute and piano, and all three gave virtuoso performances.

Music lies at the very centre of de Berniere's novel. Here it was given its most haunting, perfect rendition.

James Fraser

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