The most significant events are pain, death and love. Beyond that, all we have are more or less successful exercises of style. I like the texts that time has worked on. Goethe’s Faust contains almost the whole repertoire of issues pertaining to the human being
Silviu Purcărete

Ludmila Patlanjoglu[1]

Ludmila Patlanjoglu

The production is part of the stage director’s personal program. He staged a fragment of it in France, at a street theatre festival. He also chose a non-conventional space in Sibiu, an industrial building, where he put in place a setting of hyperbolic dimensions, à la grand opera. On the invitation of Edinburgh International Festival director Jonathan Mills, the show was invited performed as part of the prestigious EIF program in 2009. It was quite an event, highly successful both among spectators and critics – at a level that justified the 2.5 million euro cost of the Romanian tour. It is a satanic production designed gracefully, exuding a sense of insolent poetry of vice, ugliness and obscenity.

The choices that Purcărete made from Goethe’s dramatic poem include the Faustian bargain, the relationship between Faust and Margaret, the Walpurgis Night and Faust’s Ascension to Heaven. The script is practically a libretto for text, music and pantomime. The chant “Christ has risen” accompanies the audience while they enter the hall. The curtain rises on Faust’s “study”, a cold, austere chamber, with heaps of paper, newspapers and books, with a squalid sink, with benches occupied by Faust’s students; homunculi working on laptops, they appear like the inmates of an insane asylum. Faust, distressed with the fear of death and old age, finds himself overwhelmed by a monstrous kind of vitality and a vampire-like desire to live: he therefore concludes a pact with Mephistopheles, a bizarre, androgynous, caricatured being―part transsexual, part living dummy.

A world demonized through play and Eros

Silviu Purcărete
Silviu Purcărete

The two protagonists choose the madness of play, in which everything is allowed, in order to free themselves of fears. The windows fly wide open, Faust’s chamber falls apart and we advance into the Walpurgis Night together with the actors. Sex―the matrix of life―without love will generate devastating passions, approaching bestiality, sodomy and pedophilia. A sadomasochistic world invades the stage, a world driven by basic instincts and repressed obsessions, which immodestly exhibits its exasperated sexuality. We witness an apocalyptic vision of life and death. Margaret, performed by seven little girls, appears as a most surprising image. Her rape by the devil, and then the maiming and murder of the child born from the relation of Faust with Margaret are rituals of cruelty which make you shudder. Purcărete performs a vivisection of what is malignant in the human being, up to the ultimate consequences, he looks through a magnifying lens at the diabolical forces which torture man, corrupting his soul and mind. The stage director constructs a playful dream, an atemporal, and at the same time present-day spectacle, which refers to our daily dreams and nightmares. Elements of multimedia, a rock group performing live, streams of fire and fireworks are some of the ingredients of this production which makes you feel the power of the theater. The great success of Silviu Purcărete is the fact that he uses this Wagnerian panoply to play in Mozart’s style. Ilie Gheorghe, performs Faust brilliantly, as a charismatic fool. Young actress Ofelia Popii―who received a Herald Angel Award from the Scottish national newspaper The Herald―provides a high level performance in the part of Mephistopheles, a devastated soul. As a theater group, the 100 performers of the “Radu Stanca” National Theater in Sibiu do not appear as signs, but people in the flesh. Their performance is one of strength and finesse, they succeed by way of their physical mobility and psychological intensity. Helmut Stürmer’s stage design plays a catalytic role, offering a spectacular space for the evolution of the expressive costume designs of Lia Manţoc, and equally for the admirable sound of Vasile Şirli’s music, and the visual and dramatic constructs designed by Andu Dumitrescu. All of these elements converge in giving a sharp, uncompromising edge to the company’s cardboard swords.

Faust, dir. Silviu Purcărete © Mihaela Marin Cmihaela
Faust, dir. Silviu Purcărete © Mihaela Marin Cmihaela

A Poet-Director

Faust and Mephistopheles demonize the world by play and Eros. They do it with aesthetic pleasure. Theirs’ is an absolute liberty, because they do not love anyone. This is a way to bring the absurdity of life upon them, to invite the tragic destiny that deprived them of love. Sadism also has an ontological substance to it, being related to the original sin. In the end, Mephistopheles’ solitude is cosmic. The other world is not an island that saves one from nothingness. Faust’s death and ascension to Heaven are merely staged. The roles are reversed: Faust winks at Mephistopheles grotesquely, shouting at him “I’ve got the better of you!,” because he has taken Mephistopheles’ position as “God’s fool.” Faust is a saga about our time, when God is dead, when the World has been voided of significance and Man of any meaning. What Silviu Purcărete tells us is:

[Evil] will never disappear; it can only be made to wear the makeup of civilization. Wherever you happen to be, if you despise demons, they will come back. If I am involved in theater, it is because I wish to make the spectators face the monstrosity of our lives and have them contribute to exorcizing it.

Faust, a violent and visceral production, was performed five times at the Lowland Hall, Ingliston, Edinburgh; this absolutely memorable performance is already a notable part of the history of the Edinburgh International Festival and is one of the great theatrical achievements of Purcărete, this outstanding poet-stage director.

Faust, dir. Silviu Purcărete © Mihaela Marin Cmihaela
Faust, dir. Silviu Purcărete © Mihaela Marin Cmihaela

Coming Soon

Silviu Purcărete continues to pursue his dramatic and oneiric quests in two more monumental productions. He is at the editing stage of his movie Somewhere in Palilua, a fantasy creation which will be released in the autumn of this year.

He has also been preparing Gulliver’s Travels, for 2011, a joint production with the Edinburgh International Festival―the “Radu Stanca“ National Theater and the International Theater Festival of Sibiu, also with the Theatre Festival of Dublin, and partners from Belfast and Naples. Jonathan Mills and Constantin Chiriac, these enthusiastic managers with a vision, are the ones who initiated the mega-project, both of them having been impressed by the art of Silviu Purcărete.

Short entry on Silviu Purcărete

Silviu Purcărete is a Romanian stage director of drama and opera who has become a familiar name of the international elite of theater people, following his productions and the tours of the National Theater of Craiova and of the “Radu Stanca” National Theater in Sibiu, and also due to his involvement as a managing director of the Theatre de L’Union Centre Dramatique National from Limousin (France). He has directed shows on prestigious stages in France, Great Britain, Portugal, Austria, Germany and Ireland. He is acclaimed in Romania as a brilliant follower of the Romanian school of stage direction. The international press has referred to him as “a discovery of the European theatre,” “a very powerful and original personality, of the family of great European directors.” His productions become important events and they are peak moments at various festivals, e.g. in Edinburgh, Avignon, Vienna, Amsterdam, Anvers, Montreal, Bruxelles, Jerusalem, Sao Paolo, Milan, Parma, Tokyo Experts appreciate his achievements in superlative terms: “A magnificent production” (Bernard Faivre D’Arcier, director of the Festival of Avignon), “Purcărete’s show has been one of greatest hits of the Festival, an original and powerful production“ (Frank Dunlop, former director of the Edinburgh International Festival), “Ubu Rex andTitus Andronicus are doubtlessly masterpieces. Both productions are truly brilliant, powerful and free.” (Marie Helene Falcon, director of the Theatres des Ameriques Festival). Purcărete’s shows are also highly appreciated and popular among the general public, as we find noted in the international press: “Many people stood up in admiration,” “Unusual evenings, acclaimed by the audience,” “elated spectators cheered enthusiastically.” Silviu Purcărete’s productions have been honored with numerous awards, such as the International Critics’ Award at the Edinburgh Festival (1991) and the Award of the International Theatre Critics Association of Quebec – Canada (1993).

The theatrical achievement of Silviu Purcărete is a synthesis between archaeology and anticipation, it is a theatre of the art of direction, by which classics are rediscovered with a contemporary power of expression and invention. “An erudite theatre and a theatre of beauty” as the reviewer of the La Croixnewspaper wrote.

Faust, dir. Silviu Purcărete © Mihaela Marin Cmihaela
Faust, dir. Silviu Purcărete © Mihaela Marin Cmihaela

Faust and the Edinburgh International Festival―the Critics’ opinions:

Quite the most blisteringly stunning theatrical experience of this (or, appropriately enough, any other) life, Faust (Ingliston Lowland Hall) seared and stuck like hot tar on bare skin. This Romanian production, in a hangar of a shed near the airport, left most of us mesmerized and enthralled, and left me saddened only in one perverse way: I may never see a grander, more theatrical event in my life.

So ravishing that you’re almost prepared to sell your soul to the devil to keep the succession of lush images coming, Silviu Purcarete’s version of Goethe’s Faust is such a seductive visual fantasia that you might not notice it has sold its own soul to spectacle. But what a mighty spectacle it is, with a series of eye-popping illusions and conjuring tricks that make you feel as if you’ve fallen into a waking dream – or a nightmare.

You leave the theatre hungover from having binged so greedily on the rich visuals, but almost entirely unmoved by the simple purity of unaccompanied voices and the sweet songs of the doomed Gretchen, whose love redeems Faust. In Purcarete’s vision, hell is so much more exciting than heaven.”

Lyn Gardner, The Guardian, 20th August 2009

I have not seen such a complex, phenomenal staging since Janusz Wisniewski brought his The End Of Europe to the Fringe here in 1985, half my lifetime ago, and Purcarete’s Faust has a wealth of intellectual content to match its visceral impact. (After all that, it even manages to bring off Faust’s ultimate redemption). This production by the “Radu Stanca” National Theatre of Sibiu has already sold out, but I fervently advise anyone within striking distance of Edinburgh to call in every favour they can think of in order to secure a ticket.

Ian Shuttleworth, Financial Times, 20th August 2009

If a modern Bosch were painting Hell, it would very likely turn out the way that the Romanian director Silviu Purcarete imagines it, or Faust’s vision of it, in the adaptation of Goethe he’s brought to an exhibition hall near Edinburgh airport.

Add pounding and often pretty demonic music, and the result is the most overwhelming sense of evil I’ve experienced in a theatre.

Benedict Nightingale, The Times, 20th August 2009

Doctor Faust is a timeless, blood-smeared man-in-black. His classroom, a dream-like cavern of dust and scattered papers. His students hunch over laptop computers, looking like the wretched inmates of a Victorian insane asylum. From the opening moment of this astonishing interpretation of Goethe’s Faust, by Romanian director Silviu Purcӑrete and the ‘Radu Stanca’ National Theatre of Sibiu, one is plunged into a purposely incongruous, yet brilliantly complete, theatrical vision… In these days when live drama is so often diminished, not only by a lack of resources, but by a tawdry resort to naturalism, a work such as this serves as an important reminder of the possibilities of a theatre of imagination. Playing at the Edinburgh International Festival and similarly prestigious events, Purcӑrete may have the resources to create theatre on a large scale, but, crucially, he also has the vision and boldness of a latter day Hieronymus Bosch.

Mark Brown, Sunday Herald, 23rd September 2009

So. Hmph. Paedophilia, bestiality, blood, pigs, fire, forgiveness. Is this what we pay our… Romanian public-arts-theatre funding licence for? Thank goodness someone does, and that the otherwise quirky festival director Jonathan Mills secured this phenomenal, harrowing, soaring production: the 2009 festival is already a triumph for this alone.

Euan Ferguson, The Observer, 23rd August 2009

Ludmila Patlanjoglu

[1] Ludmila Patlanjoglu is a theatre critic and historian. She is a university professor, PhD, and Head of the Theatre Science Department at the “I. L. Caragiale” National University of Drama and Film Arts in Bucharest, Romania, President of IATC―Romanian Section (1999-2008). Member of IATC’s EXCOM (2001-2007). Honorary member of the IATC―Romanian Section board (2008 – present). Member of the Romanian Theatre Artists’ Association (UNITER). Director of the 2002 and 2003 editions of the “I. L. Caragiale” National Theatre Festival in Romania. Director of the 21st Congress of IATC organized in Bucharest (November, 2003). Initiator of IATC’s THALIA Prize (designer Dragos Buhagiar). Member of Editorial Board of the Critical Stages, web magazine edited by IATC.

Copyright © 2009 Ludmila Patlanjoglu
Critical Stages/Scènes critiques e-ISSN: 2409-7411

This work is licensed under the
Creative Commons Attribution International License CC BY-NC-ND 4.0.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
The Apocalypse in Us: Purcărete’s Faust