(IPDG member Khairuddin Hori`s production of Faustus reviewed)
“Disease, and most specially opprobrious, suppressed, secret disease, creates a certain critical opposition to the world, to mediocre life, disposes a man to be obstinate and ironical to civil disorder.” - Thomas Mann, ‘Doctor Faustus: The Life Of The German Composer Adrian Leverkuhn as told by a Friend.’ (1947)
The vocalist wore a tight sexy-pink pantsuit. The band was beautiful, very glam-rock. It wailed for many minutes, in what seemed to be an extended improvisation.The building was bedecked in huge flowers, banners, and strange things. Faustus, with spiky ginger hair and a loincloth, lowered himself down the façade of the building and, halfway down, started to turn upside down and swing with abandon. No safety net. Behind him, in a window on the second storey, a sinuous dancer in 5-inch heels climbed the scaffolding, gyrating and blowing kisses.
*The devils sang, “Do what thou wilt/ shall be the whole of the law/ free of thy wit/ thy will be done forever more”.
Faustus replied, “I invoke, I greet thy presence, o ra-hoor-khuit/ o supreme and terri le god/ who didst make the gods and death/ to tremble before thee/ O I, I adore thee.”*
The music climbed higher and higher. A giant video projection showed a snake and crotch shots. Faustus, inverted, let a watermelon he was holding drop to the ground, two storeys below. It smashed open, its red pulp a graphic reminder of the risks the performer was taking.
This was Die Faustus Die!, devised by Singaporeans Khairuddin Hori and Gene Sha Rudyn, performed literally on the facade of the Substation Theatre in Singapore on November 2-4. This production needed a record number of permits and licences, involving as it did a Heritage building, obstruction of traffic, loud music played outdoors, and abseiling. It had been advertised as a “rock operetta, a mind-blowing, music and movement riff on the play by Christopher Marlowe” in which “Dr Faustus re-lives his rendezvous with death and the devil through song, dance and acrobatics.”
The band was Westside, comprising singer Sabri Mohd Shahid, Adam Bajuri on drums, Akie Anuar Mohd Shahid on guitar, and Rosman Mohd Shahid on bass. (Westside was on the top tier of the facade. Unfortunately the photos don't show it in its glory).
Herman Aw danced, and Faustus was played by Gene. The snake starring in the video was Dusty. The audience watched the show from a kopitiam across the road, and by the end of the show included many passersby who had been riveted by the spectacle.
The Faustian legend, about a man who sold his soul to the devil in return for worldly gratification, has had many reincarnations. They have in common a different and individual ‘spin’ that each artist applies to the theme. In Mann's novel, the twentieth century composer Leverkuhn’s pact with the devil is represented partly by a wasting disease (syphilis) which gives him 24 years of musical genius but which eventually claims his life. Goethe, in true Romantic fashion, had his Faust redeemed in the end. More famously, Doctor Faustus in Christopher Marlowe's medieval play is damned in eternity, having made a pact with Mephistopheles to give his soul to Lucifer if the former will serve him for 24 years. A morality play about a man who aspires beyond limitations set by God.
So individual interpretations of the story are par for the course. Further, Khairuddin and Gene are unorthodox. Talking with them reveals startling trains of thought. Even so, "Die Faustus Die! "was a bit of a shock.
Maybe that was the point.
It was a lot more unstructured than I had expected in an event publicised as an 'operetta'. There was no discernible narrative or thematic development or indeed any conventional tying-in of the visual and aural elements. The characteristic of improvisation extended to all areas of the show.
Westside describes its music as 'psychedelic progressive rock' . It seemed to be one long jam session, structured around a few themes, maybe too few to sustain the momentum over an hour's playing. But it was euphoric, with the singer Sab in an ecstatic state. Gene said later that all his movements happened when he felt the time was right. Nothing, including entrances and exits, was fixed. At the first performance, no one seemed quite sure how and when it was supposed to end. Sometimes the video action coincided with the music and acrobatics, and at several points the sinuous dancer and Dusty were doing exactly the same thing, but I was told this was by luck. It hadn't been choreographed.
The text, by Gene, contained exotic and evocative lines, when it could be heard. Faustus was grappling with angels and jinns and devils, resolving at the end to kill himself. From across the road, Gene seemed to be in a trance as he walked the facade. It was gripping, not least because there was nothing to prevent him crashing to his death if his rope failed him.
The video, dealing with eroticism and death, also made edgy viewing, not just because of Dusty's blown-up slitheriness. For instance, unadorned shots of a dancer in underwear waving a bunch of withered flowers around her crotch were surprisingly disturbing. Maybe it was the sensuality of the movements, combined with the suggestion of drying up (it turned out later that the crotch belonged to a man and not a woman, an illusion achieved through the ancient mak nyah art of ‘kepit’). The provocative and sometimes explicit nature of the images and imagery was a reminder that Singapore is more lax than we are in the area of sex and public screenings.
Having abandoned the notion of watching an operetta, and having surrendered to the experience, it was a visionary and swashbuckling change from the usual musical event. The randomness of the performers' actions, the scariness of the abseiling, the daring of the dancers on the scaffolding, Westside's haunting wall of noise and changing textures, the edgy images. The whole outdoor sound and light experience was, to use a cliche, unforgettable.
Except for newcomer Herman, all the performers are established. Westside, winners of the 1998 MTV Breakthrough Award, and of the Grand Prize in the MTV/Yamaha Band Alert, are well known in Singapore's alternative music scene. This is the first time they are involved in theatre. They say it won't be the last. Khairuddin, a co-alumni with M Nasir, from the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, played an active role in the revival of the Malay theatre company Teater Ekamatra. Gene Sha Rudyn's many achievements include much talked about success here in Anak Bulan Di Kampong Wa Hassan, a one man/twelve character tour de force. Both he and Khairuddin are hungry for collaborations with Malaysian artists.
Possibly the most rewarding thing about watching the show was experiencing a fresh and highly physical approach to music theatre. It was based on very loose lines, and the performers entrusted themselves largely to the 'feel' and inspiration of the night. The chutzpah and different paradigms that made such a production possible simultaneously made more conventional work methods seem positively anal. This difference in thinking was illustrated by Gene' s response when I asked him why he didn't at least use a mattress, in case he fell. He looked at me incredulously.
“Macam tu,” he explained patiently, “tak style!”
**Copyright of Die Faustus Die! text: Gene Sha Rudyn, 2001
this article from http://www.kakiseni.com/articles/reviews/MDA3NA.html