Doctor Faustus, The Barbican, London. September 2016.
I'm easily swayed into going to the theatre and this time it was my friend the Upstart Wren who was keen on seeing this. I have a love/hate relationship with the RSC but Doctor Faustus is a play I like a lot and so I was quite happy to accompany her. It all started well, trains were on time, we found the Barbican with no problems and our seats were excellent...
The opening was promising too - the roles of Faustus and Mephistopheles are shared between two actors and at each performance the decision as to who plays which role is decided by striking matches, however as the characters were dressed identically at this point I can't remember whether the owner of the match that went out first played Faustus or Mephistopheles - already not a good sign for the play!
I got more hopeful as the start did show Faustus surrounded by books, but my reading of him is that he feels he has learnt all he can from the books he has but wants more which is why he makes his pact but in this version he starts by throwing books away in disgust and I had the feeling that he was bored by them not that he was a renowned scholar.
It just went downhill from here on. The text had been drastically cut but the time filled with lots of modern dance and whitewashing of the stage. I never felt that the good and bad angels were actually fighting for Faustus, they merely seemed bored and one of them could barely speak the line.
A moment of levity came with the appearance of the deadly sins although even this became smug and self referential as covetousness appeared to look like Antony Sher's Richard III - a role he played for the RSC...
|image from Findingshakespeare.com|
I'm not the only one who has been made uncomfortable with this - other have commented that the students/devils have the look of Jewish scholars.
I'm pleased I saw this version of the play for it reminds me how good the Globe's version from 2011 was. I think that cutting out all of the humour from the play (like Shakespeare Marlowe's plays are a good balance of comedy/tragedy) was a mistake, the play felt unbalanced. I've also read the play since seeing it and I don't think I like the additions either.
Ultimately I never believed in either of the leads - possibly because Mephistopheles looked just like Richard O'Brien when he played RiffRaff in The Rocky Horror Picture Show.