2016 seems to be the year of Dr Faustus. With Jamie Lloyd’s production over the summer and the RSC’s version which later transferred to the Barbican, I was excited to see Theatrical Niche’s reworking of Marlowe’s dark and gruesome tale.
In this particular production, Dr Faustus is experimenting with necromancy after the disappointing displays at her circus. In dabbling with dark magic, a demon of Hell called Mephistophilis, is conjured up by Faustus and after some negotiation, she agrees to sell her soul to Lucifer for a measly 24 years of absolute power. But in this tale, with great power comes huge sacrifice.
Immediately as I walked into the lovely Arts Theatre, I got a taste of the circus. Ropes, hoops and even the “Entry of the Gladiators” music - I knew I was in for a treat. What I thought was really clever about this production was the clash of traditional and modern thematic devices. Amongst the long-established visual element of the circus was glow in the dark paint and modern day clothing - Faustus appeared in a leather jacket and red jeans. This was mirrored in both the music and the text. The juxtaposition of Julius Fucik’s music and the casual appearance of Alt-J just before the interval. Marlowe’s text intertwined brilliantly with director, Venetia Twigg’s adaptation with modern day language, which served as a brilliant device to merge the two realities.
Charlotte Watson played her version of the power-hungry Dr Faustus. She is a lovely, daring actress who had me captivated from the start. She brought a wonderful cocktail of strength and vulnerability to the role and commanded the stage with intensity and truth.
Matthew Springett played Mephistophilis with an impressive balance between the dark and light. I particularly enjoyed how his laughing, twitching character was so playful one second, and the next would be menacing enough to live up to his demonic roots. As well as this, Springett had a tremendous amount of emotional depth to his performance. When he was describing “Hell,” I could actually see him imagining what it was like to be there, which I thought was deliciously strong and sincere. I know this cast engaged in some of Grotowski’s techniques and I could see them at work in this moment.
Side by side with the two leads came the fantastically skilled supporting characters played by Rayo Patel and Alice Sillett. Both played multiple roles deftly, with great ease and humour that cut through the darkness of the play. A physically expressive duo who bounced across the stage with energy and finesse with a little horror creeping in at times.
The star of the show just so happened to be the embodiment of Hell in the form of a 6ft lizard puppet. I must applaud the work of puppet designer, Maia Kirkman-Richards for this masterpiece as well as the cast who brought it to life. My only criticism was that I wanted to see more of it!
This production brought a new, fresh insight into the play which I thoroughly enjoyed. Although I was not able to see Jamie Lloyd’s production or the RSC’s, I can say that I think Theatrical Niche’s recontextualised version was strong, dynamic and a true pleasure to watch. A brave re-working of a classically sinful production which should definitely be seen before it closes on 19th October.
(c) 2016 Molly Miller
Rayo Patel - Acrobat/Pope/Benvolio/Duke/Devils
Alice Sillett - Calamity/Archbishop/Empress/Devils
Matthew Springett - Mephistophilis/Wagner
Charlotte Watson - Dr Faustus
Playwright - Christopher Marlowe
Director - Venetia Twigg
Puppet Designer - Maia Kirkman-Richards
Lighting Designer - Nic Farman
Lighting Co-Designer/Technician - Sam Owen
Set/Costume Designer - Amanda Mascarenhas
Movement Director - Sheri Sadd
Adaptation by Venetia Twigg