Taking what I thought would be an unwise break from my coursework to see Doctor Faustus turned out to be an extremely rewarding decision. The On The Rocks show, directed by Alexander Gillespie and Bennett Bonci, was an excellent interpretation and combination of the A- and B-texts, turning the new Venue 1 into a setting for inane necromancy and tragicomic downfall.
The 16th century play by Christopher Marlowe follows the titular scholar’s doomed quest to achieve academic greatness, wealth and political power by selling his soul to Lucifer. His lofty ambitions degenerate into a travesty following the pact, turning him into a comedic magician assisted by the long-suffering Mephistophelis. It is a play about desire, the vacancy of its object and the inaccessibility of truth, which takes the audience on a journey of foolishness – quite literally, in this case.
The choice to have the show in promenade was conducive to, not only a clever use of the Union space, but also the piece’s expression of the human condition, forcing the audience to accompany Faustus on his farcical passage from the lust for transcendent knowledge and unholy power, to bogus science and practical jokes. At one solemn point, the audience naturally congealed into an expectant passage on either side of Faustus, almost guiding him towards the open gates of hell.
The mobile audience also allowed for an impressive reimagining of many of the more pantomimic scenes, such as Mephistophilis’ first entrance and the display of the Seven Deadly Sins. Costume designer Felicity Guite created wonderful devils using masks, and illustrated the timelessness of the play’s themes with costumes from a mixture of periods.
Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus has a notoriously silly middle section that can be difficult to balance with its darker, philosophically richer frame, yet Gillespie and Bonci managed to capture a pleasant style of humour through a combination of well-choreographed slapstick and the casts’ remarkable harmony and confidence with the material. Succeeding in doing so, I believe, best communicates the play’s absurdist undertones that make the piece suitable for the 21st century stage.
The entire cast displayed huge talent. Noah Liebmiller delivered a well-studied and absorbing Faustus, complemented by a coldly level-headed interpretation of Mephistophilis. One of the most noteworthy aspects of the play was the choice to cast Noah’s twin brother, Jared, as the masked demon, adding a significant (though convenient) revelation to the ending, and more force to the fluidity of identity that Marlowe toys with. I am struggling to single out particular cast members for flattery, given the number of excellent actors involved, but I especially enjoyed Alice Gold’s exaggerated aristocratic accent as the Emperor, and the more traditional Elizabethan entertainment that Jemima Tysson Smith and Becca Schwarz provided as Robin and Dick.
Doctor Faustus was one of the best theatre experiences I have had in St Andrews, more than warranting its full house on both nights, and my neglected coursework.
Photos provided by Lightbox