We sat in the very back row of the Thalia through eight hours of Goethe’s Faust, Parts I & II. The play started at 5 pm and finished at 1.15 am. The night of 1st October this year in Hamburg was warm – a pleasant 21 degrees when we came out for the first break at 7.45 pm, after the end of Faust Part I; it was a wise directorial decision to pull that through in a oner. The sold-out theatre combined with the warm weather outside made drowsy air-clouds float up to us at the back, sending us to sleep now and again during the action.
And that action was fantastic; it didn’t matter at all that you woke realising you may have dosed off for half-an-hour, the dramatic body was so rich that you couldn’t be sorry about anything you might have missed. It was an irreverent take on Goethe’s work, with a bit scripted in at the start of Part II happy to proclaim that many of the rhymes in Faust are shite, words pulled haphazardly out of a rhyming dictionary.
Yet if there are a few duff rhymes in among the endings of the 12,000 lines that make up Faust I & II, then it hardly matters. The series of strong images that comprise Faust’s life – from being involved in the making of paper money, to – very much in the spirit of the Frankenstein times – being involved in making an artificial human being, were convincingly portrayed. The eight and a half hours were a time out of time, a spiritual and intellectual holiday.