Friday, July 08, 2011

On Sunday I made it to the Globe Theatre for only my second visit - the first time was... um... 7 years ago. What can I say... I obviously don't like alfresco theatre! However both Owen and Sharon's keenness on seeing Christopher Marlowe's DOCTOR FAUSTUS found me risking the elements - to say nothing of the bum-numbing bench and lack of leg-room... it's a known fact that they were of a smaller stature in the Elizabethan era - is there to be NO progress?After a good chomp at the Anchor pub, Owen, Sharon, Eamonn and I made our way to our front row gallery ledge then it was eyes down, here comes Faustus!

Surprisingly this was my first ever Christopher Marlowe play although I had seen the 1967 film of DOCTOR FAUSTUS co-directed and starring Richard Burton, based on the production he appeared in with the Oxford University Dramatic Society with a cameo from one E. Taylor as Helen of Troy. To be honest it's her several wordless appearances that I remember from the film.

I must admit my heart sank when Felix Scott spoke the opening prologue as I could not make out horned head nor pointed tail of what was being said but before long I was hooked by Marlowe's oft-told tale of Faustus, an intellectual who has become frustrated by the limits of knowledge and turns to the lure of magic. He offers to sell his soul to the Devil for the possibility of 24 years of limitless possibility and we follow him through the years as he becomes debased by his own power, relying constantly on the Devil's emissary Mephistopheles, and he becomes all too aware of his day of reckoning.Faustus' story is, of course, mirrored with a 'rude mechanical' tale of a couple of thickos who use the magic book for their own means and as usual it was in these scenes that the production pushed too hard on the button that blares "See, it's rude this bit... see, this is like Carry On". This was at variance with the delightfully subtle performance of Pearce Quigley as Robin who reacted to the most frightening apparitions from Hell with a baleful indifference.

Matthew Dunster's production moved along at a good even pace - the only mis-steps being the grating burlesque moments and also what I assume is an in-house tradition of having a musical coda which here jolts you from the dramatic ending of the play to a jolly jig-about onstage with stick puppets. Again, I am sure the Elizabethan audiences needed something to sugar the pill but we don't need it anymore. There was also a worrying touch of modern dance at the start that, as usual, was a bit of a worry.Have a haunted, lead character who doesn't get many laughs? Call for Paul Hilton! I have seen him in the past as the haunted Orestes in THE ORESTEIA, Eugene O'Neill's version of Orestes as the haunted Orin in MOURNING BECOMES ELECTRA, the haunted Hjalmar in Ibsen's THE WILD DUCK... you get the deal. Needless to say the role of Faustus was a good fit for him and he charted Faustus' hubris with ease, making his descent from scholar to court 'turn' a fascinating one.

Hilton was well partnered by Arthur Darvill as Mephistopheles. I assume Darvill accounted for the enthusiastic younger strain to the audience numbers thanks to his tv role as Doctor Who's sidekick and he gave a leisurely performance which finally caught fire when Mephistopheles shows his true nature when Faustus turns to him in his final hour. I only wish he had more presence in the role, more often than not I found myself concentrating on the more charismatic Hilton.In the busy supporting cast who doubled and tripled roles I found much to enjoy in the performances of Felix Scott as Faustus' servant Wagner as well as his aristo foppery as the Emperor Charles, Jonathan Cullen as the deposed Pope Bruno, Nigel Cooke as a dessicated Lucifer and Michael Camp, appropriately playing an obviously bubbly bi Duke.

It certainly made me keen to see more of Marlowe's canon.
Production photographs by Keith Pattison.

No comments: