Review: Doctor Faustus

Nora Galland 30 January 2014

Thou shalt not expect anything… this is my advice for those who will see this amazing production of Doctor Faustus.

Even though it is a classic, the director Drew Mulligan and his crew managed to create a surprising level of suspense thanks to a subtle adaptation of Marlowe’s plot. To celebrate the 450th anniversary year of Marlowe’s birth, the Marlowe society decided to offer a gift to the spectators. They enabled the audience to get to know the Marlowe’s society history by setting this production in 1951 – year of the Rylands production of the play, with Ian McKellen as Gluttony, Derek Jacobi as the Evil Angel and Trevor Nunn as a scholar.

The performance opened with a group of students getting ready to start the rehearsal of Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus. It was thought, by some superstitious people, that the play was actually about a real act of conjuring the devil – that it was even a curse. Indeed at the very end of the performance, we went back to the students rehearsing the play. However, the actor playing the part of Faustus was found dead by the other students, panic-stricken and suspicious… This slightly altered plot worked beautifully and offered a new perspective on the play.

Moreover, the cast was quite impressive as well. The actors successfully changed the tone of Marlowe’s text to make it truly comic. They appropriated the play to make it new, fresh and unexpected. For instance, Faustus’ (Charlie Merriman) first attempt to conjure Mephistopheles (Emma Powel) was quite solemn and serious but unsuccessful; the second one worked, even though it boiled down to Faustus whining about his failure, remembering himself he forgot to use holy water in his ritual and reading half of the spell with not as much as conviction as the first time. The production designer (Valentina Ricci) was creative, particularly in the costumes of the devils: she chose to make them wear grotesque colored horns that emphasized the comic atmosphere of the performance.

In a nutshell, this was an unexpectedly funny production with a surprisingly mysterious ending…