Thursday, 21 November 2019

THEATRE REVIEW: The Tragical History Of Dr. Faustus - The Lowry Theatre, Salford.

Splendid Productions normally perform in schools and colleges with their adaptations of classic works. This afternoon however, they presented “The Tragical History of Dr Faustus”, based on the play by Christopher Marlowe, to several hundred teenagers in the Quays Theatre at the Lowry, Salford. All the comedy, boisterous energy and audience interaction went down very well with the teenagers. The rest of it had the Marlowe-loving adults who’d also attended (we’d been grouped together in the middle section of the stalls) muttering amongst themselves at the Media City tram stop afterwards.

I’m torn. I studied “Dr Faustus” at school too: I loved it when I was seventeen, and I’ve loved it ever since. I assume all the school groups there are also studying it.. and, this is dumbing down. Very entertaining dumbing down, but dumbing down even so.

It began with three actors dressed all in red, and with horns on their heads, engaging with the audience and introducing themselves as Beezlebub, Lucifer and Mephistopheles (the Hebrew, Latin and Greek names for the Devil, should you be interested…..) The script was completely modern and comedic, and I assumed we were in for a modern rewrite of the Faust story, such as is encountered in versions like the “Bedazzled” films and “The Devil And Daniel Webster.” Nothing wrong with that.

The adaptation was written by Kerry Frampton and Ben Hales, and Kerry Frampton also directed. Utilising simple Brechtian staging, the three Devils explained they were going to be performing an Elizabethan play and playing multiple characters; they handed their horns to three lucky audience members, and introduced the Hell Button – every time it was pressed, the audience had to scream. Beezlebub began performing his first dialogue as Dr Faustus – and it was Marlowe’s text. But still in the same over-the-top comic style as used for Frampton and Hales’ text. Maybe the production could still have hung in there. But it didn’t.

The rest of the production flip-flopped between Marlowe’s text and that of Frampton and Hales’, with the latter being in the majority. I estimate about 20% of Marlowe’s playscript was used, and I cynically guess it was only in there to justify bookings by school groups. When it was the modern text, there were some interesting and insightful comments about how modern Western values of materialism and individualism are very close to what Faustus sold his soul for, and if this had been entirely a modern rewrite and the production could have properly focused on this, it would have been a sharply satirical and effective piece of theatre.

But it kept dragging in Marlowe’s text, and I wish in all honestly they’d left poor Marlowe out of it. Massive layers of nuance were thrown out the window. The whole spiritual aspect of it was thrown out alongside it, and this is vital with Marlowe’s text – its whole discussion of what goes into the human soul can make the audience’s hairs stand on end in performance. Director Kerry Frampton seemed to realise this only very late in the piece, and in the last ten minutes made a scrambled attempt to get things going in a dramatic direction instead, but she’d run out of time and audience expectations, and Dr Faustus was damned to hellfire in the flattest and most underwhelming ending this reviewer has ever seen in a Faust performance. It was superficial, glib, plastic and skated over the surface of everything Marlowe had been trying to achieve with the script.

It’s a shame, because Nick Crosbie, Grace Goulding and Tanya Muchanyuka were very strong performers and could have carried the audience in any direction – Muchanyuka in particular, had an icy quality as Mephistopheles that came closest to piercing the soul.

Reviewer - Thalia Terpsichore
on - 20/11/19

1 comment:

  1. I’ve always felt Dr. Faustus is a play with a great beginning and a great ending but a messy, inconsequential middle. Bottom line: Marlowe wasn’t a very good playwright. He could write great scenes and ‘moments’ but not whole plays.