Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Brighton Fringe 2016: The Devil Without

A deserted, abandoned church. A desperate man who's looks hide more years than can be imagined. Tonight, an unimaginable evil will attempt to breach the walls of this building. Nothing can stop it, nothing except perhaps, you...

Never has the Faustian legend been told in such a chilling and immersive way. My interest will always be attracted to any production which claims Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman as inspiration. I have also been a long time admirer of the Faustian legend and the concept of both demons from within and without is the main stay of many a classic horror film. The Devil Without became a play that had to be seen when I did some research and discovered that Ian Harvey Stone, John Faust, was tutored by E.Raymond Carlisle (son of Houdini's prop maker) The Devil Without is a play that utilises audio and visual effect to hammer its powerful messages home, using a Helmholtz resonator to heighten unease. Before even arriving at the venue I knew that this was going to be a new experience for me and yet I also harboured some reticence. Would my appreciation on how audiences can be manipulated detract from the effectiveness of the performance and the effect on me?

Before even entering St Andrews, the venue for this production and a brilliantly appropriate one, I had to sign a disclaimer as The Devil Without would increase anxiety and unease. I have to confess that this was a new experience for me and although I am sure it was done for legal reasons it also cleverly added to the feeling of expectation. It also dialled up the levels of unease, what sort of play involved some level of potential health risk? Almost as soon as I entered the building the haunting music (effectively composed by Daniel Sarstedt) created an atmosphere of dread. I almost got the impression I could feel malevolent forces massing outside the hallowed confines of the church. As John Faust takes to the stage his unkempt and untidy appearance immediately seemed to contrast with the commanding tone to his voice and the spark of fire in his eyes. Harvey Stone is compelling and entirely convincing as Faust which, considering he is 500 years old, is an astounding achievement. The Devil Without is an immersive play and the audience are central to what transpires over the hour duration. It is not my intention to ruin or spoil the experience for those of you who are yet to see the play. All I will say in regards to the specific events that unfold is that whatever mind set you attend with you will be impressed, you will be involved and it will terrify you. The Devil Without is  a beautifully crafted piece of theatre that interweaves expertly the Faustian legend with state of the art subliminal suggestion. It was strange to find myself reassuring my own mind that "it's o.k, it's only theatre" I have never, ever had to do that with a theatrical production before!

Fringe has any number of theatrical plays and equally, plenty of magical shows to choose from. The Devil Without expertly combines the two elements seamlessly and in such an effective way that the final punch leaves audiences dizzy and gasping for breath. I left shaking my head and trying to piece together in my mind what had just assailed me. This is an experience that you will never forget and long after the bunting and posters have been taken down my mind will take me back to a church in Brighton that was the venue for a convergence of multiple realities. Don't take my word for it, John Faust needs your help, his life depends on it!

The Devil Without is playing at St Andrews (Sweet Venues), Brighton Fringe, until 5th June and you can book tickets here

5 Stars

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