A review by Pauline Flannery for EXTRA! EXTRA!




 Presented by Little Goblin Productions


Doctor Faustus


by Christopher Marlowe 

Directed by Vince Tycer

Rose Theatre, Bankside

4 - 29 June 2011



‘Glory is like a circle in water which never ceaseth to enlarge itself’, Henry VI, Pt 1. The quote above the entrance to the Rose Theatre, in many ways serves as a useful metaphor for its latest production, Dr Faustus.

The action begins with Faustus evoking Latin incantations, through smoke and orange light, connecting him to an underbelly world of devilish spirits. The galleried staging foregrounds the watery remains of the original Rose Theatre, built in 1587 by Philip Henslowe, which saw the first staging of Dr Faustus over four hundred years ago. It is a powerful moment. As the rain lashed down, the atmosphere was charged in this provocative, seventy-five minute version of Marlowe’s masterpiece.

Central to the play is the pact Faustus makes with the devil - his soul in return for twenty four years power and ‘his own cunning.’ His relationship with Mephistopheles, Lucifer’s messenger, is key, for in Tycer’s production, Mephistopheles, transposed to Mephistophilis, is already a soul in torment.

The decision to play Mephistopheles as a female is not new but it adds an extra frisson to the action. The over-arching master/slave relationship is charged with sexual tension. A dynamic that has echoes in other parts of the production, such as Holly Clark’s She-Devil, who Faustus dismisses as ‘a hot-whore’, and Zimmy Ryan’s sexually provocative, yet heavily pregnant, Duchess Van Holt. 

The physicality of Chesca Moon’s Mephistophilis perfectly suggests this sexual ambivalence. Her movement resembles a bird of prey: talons, beaked, with sharp head movements, disporting black feathers. A tight corset with heavy black eye make-up completes this she-bird image, contrasting as it does to the flowing academic-black of Faustus’ gown and garb. As Faustus, a bookish Christopher Diacopoulos, ignores her warnings that hell is here. The overwhelming feeling of inevitability ratchets up tension.

The trope of learning, the book, is signalled straight away; upstage centre is a bookcase. Faustus uncovers books from drawers and shelves to feed his craving for knowledge, an intellectual food-fest of herbs, science and necromancy. Later in the action, the physical presence of the Bible repels the devils attacking the Old Man - the old medieval morality figure of mercy, as he offers Faustus a chance to turn back. Through to Faustus’ final line, ‘burn my books’ as consumed by the devils, as he is taken to hell.

Taken one way Dr Faustus could be seen as a systematic campaign against learning, but its main universal theme lies more in the over-reaching choices that individuals make. In the play, books are seen as a great leveller: the comic sub-plot involving Wagner, Faustus’ servant, played with comedic swagger by Holly Clark, conjures up wine and while this aspiration may be base, it is at least honest. The comic scenes mirror the main plot, and as Faustus’ journey takes him from Rome to the sceptical Duke of Vanholt’s court and finally home, the two plots converge. Faustus’ final wish is to kiss Helen of Troy, the most beautiful woman in the world. In this act his aspiration is seen to be no more elevated than Wagner’s or his clownish cronies.

The company of seven actors make a fine ensemble. Director, Vince Tycer, works in a highly physicalized way so that cast members can flip from character to character with ease and fluidity. As a device this works most of the time, though some of the comic elements in the play feel at odds to the more stylised approach in the main action. 

Yet as a group they work extremely well together and provide an evocative soundscape made up of jackal-type noises whilst conjuring the devils or Lucifer, played with authority by Christopher Slater, or in the evocation of the seven deadly sins, stylishly individualised by Zimmy Ryan. At several points in the action the company seem like limpets as they cling to the iron mesh of the railings which borders the action. In these instances they appear in relief to the original Rose setting, linked by a chain of red trace lights.

All in all this production succeeds. Its taut action and well-drilled company bring off a Faustus that respects, as well as relishes, its surroundings. ‘Cut is the branch that might have grown full straight’ the chorus says of Faustus at the end of the play. Let’s hope the same fate does not await the re-institution of The Rose. There is so much potential at the heart of this project: a theatrical heritage, a lineage to some of the most important seventeenth century playwrights, and not least, the contemporary Little Goblin, big spirit, productions.

Catch the atmosphere, reach back over four hundred years, and let the ghosts come……

Tickets: £12.00 / £10.00 concessions
7.30 Tuesday – Saturday, 3.00 Sunday
Rose Theatre
56 Park Street SE1 9AS

Box office: 020 7261 9565

Email: boxoffice@rosetheatre.org.uk


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