A Sceptical Vision of Dr Faustus

Ruth Halkon reviews an unsympathetic edition of Marlowe

St. Peter's Church, Kettle'sYard - 7.45pm Tues 19th-Sat 23rd January


Rory Attwood's production of Christopher Marlowe's Dr Faustus, chosen to complement Tom de Fretton's tortured artwork, presents a sceptical but horrific vision of damnation.  Is there a heaven and hell, or is the threat of damnation only a veil to hide the fact that nothing happens after death?

In an ancient church hidden on a dark hill, the walls are hung with de Fretton's images, which distort religious iconography through a post-modern lens. A mass of falling bodies mockingly mirror Christ's Deposition and echo the scenes of judgement that once adorned this church's walls. At one end, a man is writing, oblivious as the audience enters this intimate space. He tears up his work and the play begins. 

Ben Blythe as Faustus forcefully depicts a tortured disenchanted scholar, torn between intellectual thirst and fear for his soul. Blythe switches convincingly from cringing fear to defiance as he confronts the subtly menacing Mephistophilis (Toby Parker Rees). Faustus' invocation of Mephistophilis, to the light of a single candle, was vividly done with the Latin words driven to a piercing crescendo by the screeching voices of the chorus, who eerily echoed Faustus' words. The summoning of Helen, signalled by a tinkling glockenspiel, was magical. Blythe tenderly embraced the empty air, almost as if he saw her. Yet the fact that she wasn't physically represented indicates the interpretation of Mephistophilis as a stage manager of delusion.

The brilliantly versatile chorus (Alashiya Gordes, Victoria Ball, Caitlin Doherty) made the show, providing the nauseous comedy promised by the production. Their depiction of the Seven Deadly Sins was the show's highpoint. This human puppetry was at its best in the chorus' representation of the two angels. One showed the way to heaven, the other to power and hell, yet both were manipulated by the puppeteer Mephistophilis, negating any escape from damnation.

The production was marred by its brutal treatment of Marlowe's text, cutting nearly half to concentrate solely on redemption, damnation, and despair. This removed any justification for Faustus' pact with the devil as well as juxtaposing too many scenes of Faustus whining for redemption, which verged on monotony.

Nevertheless, Attwood's production of Dr Faustus, with its startlingly appropriate setting and consummate unification of art and drama, provided a sceptical yet moving vision of hell, fitting for our modern age.

Ruth Halkon

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