Pros: Outstanding performances alongside a hauntingly beautiful choral composition.
Cons: I wish I could have seen the actors’ faces better – more light next time please!
If you had unlimited magical powers, how would you use them? Would you save the world and everyone in it, and then rest your laureled head on a white sandy beach? Forget it. The myth of Doctor Faustus is a reminder that our wish list is likely to be far more mundane, for example, conjuring up a plate of grapes in the dead of winter to impress somebody important.
What was not mundane, however, was Tangle Theatre Company’s bold production of Dr Faustus at the Arcola Theatre. Tangle Theatre is South West England’s African-Caribbean theatre company, and their work includes aspects of Southern African township and Western theatre traditions. In this production, they combined haunting music and sound with a rich set and outstanding performances to bring the ancient story to life.
I’ll admit that my knowledge of the legend of Faust was hazy around the edges. I only realised when being handed a programme that the author of Doctor Faustus is Christopher Marlow – not Goethe, as I had assumed. Wretched ignorance! To gain clarity, I may have sold my soul – or at least a lot of data – to Google. I now know that the concept of gaining supernatural powers in exchange for eternal damnation stretches far back through time, possibly even to the earliest writings of the Bible.
The play wasn’t completely dark, however. Anna Coombs’ production managed to create many hilarious moments, such as when Doctor Faustus’ mates attempted to conjure up some magic of their own, or a wonderfully sacrilegious scene where an incense-swinging priest was mercilessly mocked and mimicked. The performances are strong and assured: Joshua Liburd combined swaggering arrogance with pitiable self-doubt; Mogali Masuku switched seamlessly between completely different roles and Munashe Chirisa’s physical movement and humour created a perfect balance to the serious tone of the play.
The set was well done, with industrial storage units, fluorescent lighting and jumbled cables. I was unsure, however, about the soft lighting that made the character’s facial expressions hard to see, or the cold, bright lights that blinded the audience at significant moments. How relevant a story like Doctor Faustus is for modern day I’m not convinced, but it was nonetheless a joy to experience an ancient myth being transformed into a powerful, contemporary play.
Author: Christopher Marlowe
Director: Anna Coombs
Production: Tangle Theatre Company
Booking link: https://www.arcolatheatre.com/event/doctor-faustus/
Box Office: 020 7503 1646
Running until: This play ended on 17 March 2018.