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Doctor Faustus – West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds

Director: Dominic Hill

Playwrights: Christopher Marlowe and Colin Teevan

Reviewer: Rosie Revell


Dr FaustusThe Doctor Faustus currently on show at West Yorkshire Playhouse is every bit as dark and comically tragic as author Christopher Marlowe intended back in 1604 when the show was first performed. The scenes definitely attributed to Marlowe are skilfully bookended with specially commissioned new scenes by Colin Teevan to deliver a blistering, disturbing take on the culture of fleeting modern celebrity for not doing much at all (reality stars can take note here).

Doctor Faustus (Kevin Trainor) is restless for knowledge and his insatiable desire for fame and power drive him to make a pact with the Devil in return for the power to perform the black arts. Thinking he can control this deal he secures the devil’s servant Mephistopheles (Siobhan Redmond) for 24 years as his own man servant in return for his soul. This life-changing decision propels him into a world of fake celebrity as he becomes a globe-trotting magician. As the years pass the lines increasingly blur as to who is the master and who is the servant and Faustus becomes more and more damned. Was it a price worth paying? By the end the audience is left in no doubt it certainly wasn’t with this tightly controlled powerful play.

The play bookends the first and last scenes from Marlowe’s original text and sets it in Faustus’ home in Wittenberg with Teevan’s new scenes, set behind the scenes at Faustus’ magic shows as the 24 years pass. The set skilfully evokes these two settings with the stage set up as the backstage of a theatre, perhaps an in-joke by Teegan likening hell to it. There are certain hell like nods to drunken orgies and debauchery.

Kevin Trainor makes a phenomenal Faustus. He throws himself around the stage with gusto in what must be a truly exhausting rôle but also subtly and skilfully conveys the moral ambiguity of a man who sells his soul to the devil through simple motivations of greed and power. Faustus damns himself immediately and constantly misses the signs that it is never too late to save himself before resignedly accepting his fate. Siobhan Redmond’s Mephistopheles is a contrast to Trainor’s manic Faustus but no less powerful. Controlled and measured in movement and speech she oozes menace with every look and utterance. Initially her accent seems bizarre but it weaves itself into the character skilfully.The two leads are mesmerising but the ensemble cast are no less than excellent also.

The Playhouse set is truly impressive opening up as Faustus enters the world of celebrity but the lengthy scene changes are distracting and do take away some of the tension that is so skilfully built up.

All in all though an excellent show with a though provoking premise; just what would you be willing to do to make your dreams come true? Well worth seeing.

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One comment

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    Pamela Davidson

    I really disliked this production, and was bitterly disappointed. The Elizabethan language in the first and last scenes clashed with the modern language, Mephistopheles was boringly ice-cold,and the good and bad angels seemed to have no relevance. Worst of all, Faustus’s over the top performance generated into a parody of Frankie Howard (minus the titter-ye- nots)and I was longing for Lucifer to haul him off to hell long before the end.
    Sadly, this version cannot compare with Marlowe’s own full play, and after seeing performances at the Globe Theatre and at Marlowe’s old stomping ground at the Rose theatre, I cannot but be aware of how sadly inadequate this version really is. Not recommended.