Enter the Oculus in ‘Soulless’

Found earliest as a dark folk fable about a real historical scientist, and would-be magician who lived at the early onset of the European Enlightenment, Dr Faust’s story is well-known.

Dr Faust longing M.E.P.H to work
Dr Faust longing M.E.P.H to work
Dr Faust conversing with M.E.P.H after her creation comes to life
Dr Faust conversing with M.E.P.H after her creation comes to life

This production at the COG Arts Space, above The De Beauvoir Arms in Islington, saw the source text strayed from more than slightly. However, what we saw was a true retelling of a story intrinsic to ideas of Modern Western civilization as it’s known.

Christopher Marlowe, a contemporary of Shakespeare brought the play into the English language. A highly textured tragicomic telling; it has remained a part of English Theatre ever since 1604. The Faustian Pact became a staple of modern storytelling; the idea of selling the soul itself for one’s deepest desire.

Joanna has but one desire. She seeks to de-construct human rationale in the beast that stares her daily in the lab she practically lives in; attempting to create a soul.

Sitting on either side of Joanna Faust, you become a fly on the wall to a workaholic late-20s neuroscientist. The year we were transported to is 2027, and her attempt to decode the secrets of the human brain frames the beginning of the play.

M.E.P.H the technological devil
M.E.P.H the technological devil

It is amusing how an audience in 2014 can be just as stunned by the same two existential questions; of what is human? and where it might have come from? Although it is doubtful that many modern day pastors would preach sermons against it, as even the Pope concedes to modern science.

But that is part of the beauty and insight of this 60 minute masterpiece; M.E.P.H is a technological devil, created by humanity, for illusion, and necromancy. Like any great dystopia, the reality bites. So we would definitely urge you to go down to The De Beauvoir Arms for a pint or 3 before being scared silly by the extent of technological possibility.

Anonymous Is A Woman Theatre Company has made the bold decision to re-appropriate the traditionally male roles of Faustus and Mephistopheles with actresses. This seamless transition also sees the two players switching roles alternating nights. The chemistry between (wo)man and machine was palpable and chilling as the Doctor and the Devil engage in barter; and upload to the oculus for the same prestige and knowledge that Marlowe’s man sought 400-odd years ago.

For hundreds of years designers could make ghouls to represent the fiendish daemon Mephistophles but for a generation reared on all manner of CGI horror monster; the reality of the unknown ghost in the machine is most terrifying of all.

Let’s hope there’s nothing prescient about the play, and its prediction of a 2027 technological singularity. Definitely, a must-see. Get yourselves along to their next performance. Soulless will be running until Saturday 8th November, so grab your tickets and go and see this enthralling adaption.

Words by Amaan Ali

Photography courtesy of COG Arts Space



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