by Christopher Marlowe.
Royal Exchange Theatre St Ann’s Square M2 7DH To 9 October 2010.
Mon-Fri 730m Sat 8pm Mat Wed & 21 Sept 2.30pm Sat 4pm.
Audio-described 2 Oct 4pm (+Touch Tour).
BSL Signed 8 Oct.
Post-show Discussion 7 Oct.
Runs 3hr One interval.
TICKETS: 0161 833 9833.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 19 September.
All Hell let loose.
Toby Frow’s production has a determinedly unheroic, down-to-earth prologue and epilogue, though it gets up to plenty of high-jinks between. Packed with theatrical ideas, it’s a very full version of Christopher Marlowe’s play. The ideas can illuminate, but also clutter the story. As does the textual completeness: how many silly pranks do we need to demonstrate Faustus treats his powers trivially and that he can be a nasty piece of work?
Frow and Patrick O’Kane’s Faustus – a tall strong figure first seen as puppets at various ages then standing in his own right – indicate a figure first discovering in his powers a playfulness his childhood never possessed, then moving towards despair as he realises his ambition’s merely opened a void. His increasing viciousness shows the inner rot, culminating in the realisation that even the reasoning that led him to black magic hadn’t been his own idea.
Becoming wise only after he’s lost a reason for using his mind, O’Kane’s Faustus exemplifies G K Chesterton’s assertion that a madman is someone who’s lost everything except his reason. So, when his mind goes he’s nothing left, hence the stylised sex with a ghastly parody of beauty in the demon Helen of Troy – moments before he’d been telling others his conjured figures were mere spirits.
This is where he’s been brought by Mephistopheles. Among the production’s giant puppet is a truly monstrous Mephistopheles. He doesn’t return as a friar, as Faustus asks, but as a contemplative, bearded figure of trust – a minister, perhaps, or GP. The contrast between appearance and content when he does speak is quietly stark in Ian Redford’s impressively tactful performance.
Each act ends pointedly. By the interval triumphant Faustus’ diabolic tricks have made the world run amok, turning the stage into a Miltonic pandemonium, Lucifer flying in triumph overhead.
At the end, the stage slides open, parting Faustus from his last would-be saviour (David Hobbs, with impressive tonal command of the verse), revealing Faustus’ coffin. After attempts at escape, O’Kane’s protagonist accepts things with a slight nod, in contrast to most productions’ fire and brimstone effects: an impressive ending.
Evil Angel/Lucifer/Duchess of Vanholt: Gwendoline Christie.
2nd Scholar/Raymond/Benvolio: Jamie de Courcey.
Good Angel/Bruno/Duke of Vanholt: David Hobbs.
Wagner: Stephen Hudson.
Dick/Beelzebub/Duke of Saxony/Alexander the Great: Gavin Marshall.
Hostess/Helen of Troy: Coral Messam.
Valdes/Archbishop of Rheimes/Marino/Horse Courser: Dyfrig Morris.
1st Scholar/Frederick/Pope: Ian Midlane.
Robin/Cardinal of Padua: Rory Murphy.
Faustus: Patrick O’Kane.
Mephistopheles: Ian Redford.
Cornelius/Innkeeper/Emperor of Germany/Cardinal of France/Deadly Sin: Jonathan Tafler.
Director: Toby Frow.
Designer: Ben Stones.
Lighting: Mark Jonathan.
Sound/Composer: Richard Hammarton.
Choreographers: Coral Messam/Gavin Marshall.
Magic consultant: Darren Lang.