Pros: The themes of the play (the corruption of power and the struggle between personal morality and worldly temptation) are acutely condensed into an intelligent view on the faults of society today.
Cons: While the actors clearly understood the play inside out and presented an impressively cohesive and entertaining piece in half the usual rehearsal time, it did lack a certain polish.
Our Verdict: This play as a piece of writing offers a lot in terms of society and human nature and it has been successfully adapted into modern, bite-sized chunks.
It’s been a long time since I had to read Dr Faustus but I do remember reading it with a fair bit of humour and with the confidence that, despite being written in the late 1500s, it would translate well to a modern stage. Having never seen Dr Faustus performed before, I was curious as to how this old morality play would be interpreted for a 2013 audience – how does one put Lucifer and the seven deadly sins on stage so that it says something to “an increasingly secular society” without sounding like an outdated piece?
Well, firstly, you put Dr Faustus in an episode of CSI as he tries to revive the victim of some terrible incident (in full protective onesie and all). Meanwhile, the rest of the injured lie around screaming while the patient dies in his hands. This is the final straw that initiates his descent from the good and moral world. If it’s all gone to hell anyway, what does it matter if the devil has your soul, right? In a post-riot London, it is an eerie and dreary point that leaps all too poignantly from the stage.
Next, make Lucifer and Beelzebub two schoolkids, turning school into hell with a precociously malicious ring leader and then cement Dr Faustus’ conversion to the devil by making him a plastic surgeon. Then allow him to form cosmetic procedures on the seven deadly sins – pride gets a nose job, gluttony gets liposuction etc – a modern translation which nicely captured all the humour that belies an essentially depressing and alarming script.
The character of Mephastophilis provides a good dose of humour amongst a lot of darkness and is given a beautifully camp send up by Alastair Callcutt. He portrays the Devil’s servant as half cabaret act, half circus ring master – a proportionately erotic fit for the keeper and puppeteer of all things temptation. The cast had a solid grasp of the language of the play and its interpretation, allowing for clear and cohesive storytelling. This easily guided the audience through the plot and its nuances, despite the unfamiliar sounding language.
However, despite this show featuring an obviously committed and intelligent ensemble, the production occasionally exhibited the unfortunate trappings of amateur theatre in the form of minor uncertainty on stage. There were also a few hyperbolic acting moments which sadly detracted from the overall polish of the production. This does not entirely overshadow a show which offers a bold, provocative and relevant interpretation of Marlowe’s dramatic classic.
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Doctor Faustus runs at Network Theatre until 2 March 2013