Doctor Faustus: Christopher Marlowe
RSC: The Swan, Stratford Upon Avon, to 4 August
Runs: 1h 45m, no interval
Tkts: 0844 800 1110
Review: Alexander Ray Edser, 26 March 2016
Full of energy and invention
Some would maintain that Faustus is Marlowe’s greatest play. Which is odd – there are two versions, the script exists as fragments, and it’s difficult to work out exactly what Marlowe is getting at. (This, of course, may be due to Marlowe’s desire to explore a man pushing at the boundaries of knowledge while realising the deep trouble he could get himself into.) No such lack of clarity in the other plays.
There is some excellent writing in the play but it feels haphazard. Director, Maria Aberg, has given herself lots of space in which to invent and bring a sense of wholeness to the play.
For the most part her boldness and invention succeeds. The production is, particularly in the opening sections, rich and brooding with worked through ritual to the fore. We find Faustus a man who gives up his soul for riches and wonders, but the riches and wonders never feel very rich nor very wonderful. The performance of the Seven Deadly Sins, for instance, feels like it could have come out of a bad version of JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR (so very fitting.) At other times Faustus seems to have achieved little more than a drunken night out with the lads. Great weight is given to the one wonderful thing he truly wants (Helen) but can’t eventually achieve. Faustus’s rewards, then, are threadbare; he’s struck a poor bargain indeed. Aberg’s quiet ending is chilling with 21st Century cynicism.
A strong sense, too, that Faustus and Mephistophilis have much in common. Sandy Grierson and Oliver Ryan share these roles, leaving who is to play which character to a game of chance at the beginning of each performance.
Ryan brought us Faustus at the performance I saw. He is a fine edgy Faustus, nervous as he takes his first steps but driving the whole story forward with great energy. His sense of isolation at the close is all too real. Grierson creates a sparsely drawn Mephistophilis; he’s quiet, delicate even, unassuming, he could be living next door to us.
An excellent score from Orlando Gough underpins the production and enables Aberg to take her time when she needs to.
Doctor Faustus / Mephistophilis: Sandy Grierson, Oliver Ryan
Wagner: Nicholas Lumley
Valdes: Will Bliss
Cornelius: John Cummins
Good Angel: Will Bliss
Evil Angel: John Cummins
Lucifer: Eleanor Wyld
Pride: Theo Fraser Steele
Covetousness: Rosa Robson
Wrath: Ruth Everett
Envy: Bathsheba Piepe
Gluttony: Gabriel Fleary
Sloth: Richard Leeming
Lechery: Natey Jones
Pope: Timothy Speyer
Cardinal of Lorraine: Gemma Goggin
Friars: John Cummins, Theo Fraser Steele, Nicholas Lumley, Tom McCall, Bathsheba Piepe, Eleanor Wyld
Emperor: Gabriel Fleary
Benvolio: Tom McCall
Martino: Joshua McCord
Frederick: Natey Jones
Duke: Theo Fraser Steele
Duchess: Amy Rockson
Scholars: Will Bliss, Ruth Everett, Gabriel Fleary, Natey Jones, Richard Leeming, Tom McCall, Joshua McCord, Bathsheba Piepe, Rosa Robson, Amy Rockson, Eleanor Wyld
Helen: Jade Croot
Directed by: Maria Aberg
Designed by: Naomi Dawson
Lighting Designed by: Lee Curran
Music by: Orlando Gough
Sound Designed by: Ayse Tashkiriran
Fights by: Kate Waters
Video Designed by: Nathan Parker
Company Voice Work: Simon Money