I was beginning to lose faith in London's pub theatre. Were the hidden gems like The Man imagined? Were the productions that punched way above their bijou performance space and budgets just wishful thinking?
Thank goodness then for The Gate in Notting Hill and Wittenberg. Pub theatre is alive and certainly kicking.
David Davalos's play imagines the young Prince Hamlet at school in Wittenberg (note the young, Mr Pearce ;0) where he is studying theology and philosophy. His theology tutor is one Dr Martin Luther on the cusp of nailing his Ninety-Five Thesis to a church door and his philosophy tutor is Dr Faustus.
Luther is devout but questioning the Catholic church. He's also constipated literally having an Hallelujah moment on the toilet. While his friend and physician, Faustus, is less inclined to live by faith but by intellect, wine, women and song (he performs at the local pub in the evening).
Hamlet, the future King, is in awe of his tutors and susceptible to their views. Troubled by a dream (and his tennis game) he turns to Luther and Faustus for help. The two tutors meanwhile are having an intellectual battle of their own debating faith vs reason in which Hamlet becomes unwittingly embroiled.
Davalos also plays with historical fact and classic literature. The writing of the Ninety-Five Thesis is the result of a challenge Faustus lays down for Luther and Faustus wants to sell his soul to a woman not the devil, for example.
Designer Oliver Townsend has made the most of The Gate's space decking out the stage with old looking wood panelling with little nooks and crannies (and a fold down bed) for stowing Faustus' pills and potions and scrolls of controversial theses. It opens out to the back to make way for a tennis match (@trpw was upset by the fact that it was lawn tennis rather than real tennis which wasn't invented until many centuries after the play is set) and also a church nave.
Sean Campion plays Faustus with the air of a philosophical rock star who has tried it all, liked it and wants to try some more while Andrew Frame plays Luther as a devout man troubled by where his own mind is leading him but also a man with a penchant for a beer or three. You have to believe that these two contrasting characters could be friends and you do.
Sophie Brittain makes her professional stage debut playing various female parts switching from prostitute to the Holy Mother with ease. Edward Franklin's Hamlet was a little nervous and over earnest to begin with but relaxed as the performance progressed - this was the second preview.
Wittenberg was fabulous for its mixture of intelligence and fun and I can't recommend it enough. It's getting 5 stars from me.
Here's the trailer: