The Story of Faust

by Skottes Musikteater (Sweden)

‘The Story of Faust’,
Photography by Edurne Urizar

Prague Fringe is a boutique curated festival of mostly English speaking performance work.

There’s around sixty shows in this year’s festival. 

So. This weekend just gone, Doppelgangster’s COLD WAR toured to Prague for the city’s 18th annual Fringe Festival.

Now. Dr Tom Payne has returned to Sheffield. Tobias Manderson-Galvin has stayed in Prague.

Here, the two discuss the shows Tobias has witnessed despite Tom having no point of reference other than the festival programme and his attendance at the opening night speed fringing event


– Tobias + Tom

The Story of Faust

Skottes Musikteater (Sweden)

M-G The demon snakes that ate souls will haunt me forever.

PAYNE Did I ever tell you that I once slept in the bed of a legendary Swedish film star?

M-G And it haunts you?

PAYNE Since she died, it’s been on my mind.

M-G And so, like, this is predictable perhaps but it is a bit staggering to think how horrible the stories we are told as children are.

PAYNE Grimm’s Fairy Tales sure but not Sesame Street.

M-G Not Sesame Street ok but even mid 90s blockbuster Muppets Treasure Island opens with a song about bloodshed and murder and features a mass killing. It even delights in it. Which it shares with The Story of Faust.

PAYNE And this was a puppet show too? Have you ever done any puppetry?

M-G Yes! Yes, sorry, puppets! When I was 17 years old I made an 8ft tall headless puppet, operated from the inside, and my own head sort of popped through the chest and sat on a platter all made up as though it was the severed head of a dog. This was for a performance that the Ballarat Gallery of Art refused to let me do because the puppet was deemed too dangerous to have around their millions of dollars of art. And maybe it was or maybe it just felt that way. Again this is how I feel watching the Story of Faust. Only about my soul not my millions of dollars of art.

PAYNE I once played the character of Bottom in Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s dream. I had to wear a giant asses head – that counts as a puppet right? –  anyway, one night during the show I turned to my right and knocked the girl standing next to me off the stage with my prosthetic muzzle. It got filmed and screened on the much loved Saturday night television show You’ve Been Framed. Someone at that school got £250.

M-G King for a day, ass for a lifetime. Very Faust.

PAYNE Classic.

M-G Have you ever had a Faust moment? I think taking psychoactive drugs is a bit like that. See the world from the moon but maybe end up unable to tie your shoes any more.

PAYNE Is it a ‘Faust moment’ though? There’s this Polish legend about a character called Pan Tardowski. Makes a pact with the devil for special powers. It all comes undone in Rome… sound familiar? Maybe Marlowe was at it as well as Shakespeare… you know, the old, stealing stories from other cultures…

M-G These guys are Swedish tho; and Marlowe copied Goethe didn’t he? I think Tom in any case it is lore now. Owned by people everywhere. The Faust story.

PAYNE Marlowe was first. Then Goethe. Then Mann. But it’s Shakespeare that really bothers me. I’ve not gotten over him making me look like an ass.

M-G Don’t worry I didn’t see any Shakespeare at fringe. Do you know who is like Shakespeare is Tarantino. It is a small mercy he has never made one.

PAYNE Oh yes, they always say things like, more people died brutally in Titus Andronicus than in Kill Bill.

M-G Exactly. Midsummer Nights Dream 2: The Re-Dreamening. Merchant of Venice Redux: 1,000,000 Pounds of Statistics. Now Tom on the puppets – this show, it would be impossible to tour – no, it is touring, and I am told they drove it all down in a truck. Because the set is this incredibly large table looking thing with organs and pipes and percussive and stringed instruments, and puppets and tiny sets all built into it. That pop out. And these three serious men stand over it like John Cage doing WaterWalk. But this thing, I mean, it is a serious contraption, Tom.

PAYNE Cage was a talented composer and manipulator of objects.

M-G These, also, these are very talented people. Or experienced and skilled and committed. Or maybe they have some kind of deal with someone or other who is maybe Mephistopheles. And master manipulators. They’re artistic alchemists: musicians, puppeteers, puppet makers, story tellers, singers, actors, comics. It’s entrancing, mesmeric, it takes you over. Now that may be something to do with the permission one gives oneself as an adult when watching a children’s show – to be a child.

PAYNE So it’s about giving yourself up to a higher power? The power of puppets!

M-G Certainly the work rebels, iconoclastically, against any moral readings of the story. Maybe less about puppets and more the power of story. Though maybe it is a warning against the power of those in power / those telling stories. The church do not come off well.

PAYNE Classic church.

M-G Maybe this felt sharper in this game of thrones-eque / heavily steepled / fairy tale city. It’s strange that such an old and often told story can still resonate with us.

PAYNE People selling their souls for power. The story of our times. And what’s your ‘last judgement’?

M-G This is a work of entertainment, of labour,, and integrity. This show has the same potential as Jim Henson’s The Storyteller or the Labyrinth. It would clean up at any arts festival. I can’t believe I saw it in a fringe.

PAYNE How many souls out of five?

M-G Five impossible golds-from-lead out of five.

Seeeee you, Prague


Doppelgangster will have more post-show dialogues as fringe unfolds