Five Sydney actors are staging an imaginative modern version of Marlowe’s Faustus at the Belvoir Downstairs.

The homosexual Elizabethan playwright Christopher Marlowe would have been a fine rival for Shakespeare’s fame if he hadn’t been murdered at a young age in a pub brawl, in what looked liked a political conspiracy.

Faustus, about a man who sold his soul to the devil, is one of his now highly regarded plays.

Marlowe was testing the limits of the new Renaissance man who, faithless and greedy for unlimited power and knowledge, is sent in the end to a hell he didn’t believe in.

Faustus to a modern eye is a remarkably sympathetic character, intent on truth and reason, just as that other anti-hero Don Juan/Giovanni was intent on pursuing more sexual pleasures, both of them immune from the fear-mongering of the Church.

Five resourceful Sydney actors are currently staging a contemporary version of Faustus which reminds us that much religion today is still peddling fear and shunning both reason and rights.

Eden Falk plays Faustus not as a greedy materialist but as a questing scholar.

Faustus bargains with Lucifer’s emissary, Mephistophilis, to find out in a 24-year-world tour everything there is to know in exchange for his soul.

Amie McKenna plays Mephisto as a cool killer of a broad in red heels with lots of tricks.

Poor Faustus finds he only gets to discover what the world already knows, not the knowledge that is not yet known nor the answers to questions he doesn’t have the knowledge to ask. But he certainly gets a good trip out it.

Working Group depicts his voyage from his 16th century university town of Wurttemberg with a beautifully inventive use of very simple props, hand-held lights and costume changes.

Actors invite us into the play, childlike they pull the strings on our imagination, to create the scenes of Faustus’s voyage.

It’s a delicious audience involvement especially as the near-blind Faustus gets increasingly confused between reality and the semblances of it tricked up by the lady in heels.

The actors easily straddle Marlowe’s setting and language and the modern idiom injected by writer Robert Couch in this adaptation directed by Joseph Couch.

It’s impressive fresh playmaking, mixing insight with taut comic storytelling, and it’s a good choice for the dedicated theatregoer.

It’s a shame though that Marlowe still has Faustus lose in the end to a fearsome God who keeps the mysteries of life to himself.

Faustus by Working Group is at the Belvoir Street Downstairs Theatre until 10 April.

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