It is perhaps ironic that in an attempt to escape from the books and essays that make up my degree, I found myself sitting among an audience staring at a scholar’s office, filled with bookshelves. Although enhancing my looming essay-dread, the set was wonderfully fitting for a production of Doctor Faustus. The play follows Faustus, a learned fifteenth-century scholar, through his experimentation with magic after he becomes dissatisfied with earthly studies, ultimately selling his soul to Lucifer in return for over two decades worth of unlimited power and service from the demon Mephistophilis. It is a production of continuous inner conflict that grapples with the limitations of human potential, the dangers of pride, and the consequence of damnation. The set created a positive first impression; the chalkboard with complex equations, the lone desk in the centre, and the clock that ominously hung at the back created an anticipation that was reflected in the buzz of the audience. Clearly, this is an eagerly awaited performance, and I can certainly say that it did not disappoint.
No play is perfect, however, and there were certain drawbacks that could be addressed. Regarding the set, the placement of speakers within the bookshelves felt anachronistic and took away from the atmosphere that had been created. There were some awkward points with the chorus of sins, most significantly with their scene changes where the audience could see them walk backstage, some brilliantly remaining in their distorted characters but others not, which disturbed the piece. Lastly, the feet-dragging as a result of Faustus’ (fitting) erratic energy, led to squeaks that became increasingly distracting and wince-worthy that could be better controlled.
The performance of Faustus by Henry Waddon cannot otherwise be faulted. An exceptional talent, he brought a wealth of emotion to the piece that kept us thoroughly engaged as passengers in his inner-turmoil. At multiple points, Waddon could have the audience laughing and then recoiled in shock in a flash of anger, with himself or the world, and then filled with a strange pity in the multiple moments that he shed tears. A particular highlight was when Faustus wavered between the light and darkness before signing his soul to Lucifer in his own blood. Waddon’s frantic movement and anguished expression completely captured Faustus’ torn state, and his commitment to taking a knife to his skin – the cutting of which looked so realistic that I had to look away as the ‘blood’ poured down his arm – took the piece to a whole new level. Although highly commendable alone, the interplay between Faustus and Mephistophilis (Gemma Daubeney) was excellent. The two actors worked well together, Daubeney oozing a calm but comic appeal that grounded Waddon’s frenzy. In particular, the humorous scene where the two, whilst invisible, played tricks on the pope and his entourage, making the audience laugh with their phantom foolery and making good use of the space whilst sitting among the audience to observe their tormented subjects.
There is an array of colourful characters in this piece, all executed wonderfully and some deserving particular mention. Sunny Roshan as the pope was particularly amusing, and his commitment to falling off his chair was excellent. The teamwork between Benvolio, Martino, and Frederick also made for a great respite in an intense, tumultuous play, particularly noteworthy was Jamie Walker’s portrayal of Benvolio’s anger and lust for revenge. Finally, this performance would be diminished without the exemplary commitment of the chorus. Their warped bodies appeared as one mass of horror that tormented Faustus, and their creepy sounds and movements were very successful in setting a disturbing scene.
Amelia Rogers and Georgie Dettmer, as Director and Assistant Director, should be applauded for their excellent efforts and the whole crew admired for pulling off a difficult piece, and doing it well. The lighting was particularly effective at multiple points, from making subtle changes that shifted with Faustus’ mood to the grander flashing red lights that accompanied the deadly sins. I also found that the sound design had a stirring impact, especially the echoed voices. The play culminates in a tearful, pitiful state. Faustus is forcibly carried off as the clock chimes twelve and various minor explosions shake the bookshelves (and the audience). ‘Glutted’ with his ‘golden gifts’, Faustus meets his just end. A fantastic rendition of a classic, this is one not to be missed