Doctor Faustus is probably the most radical Renaissance play I have studied. Written by Christopher Marlowe, the only confirmed Atheist of the time and suspected member of the secret service, it’s no wonder. The Swan Theatre’s production is the first I’ve ever seen of this play, after studying it this year in my Shakespeare and His Contemporaries unit.
The RSC used fascinating strategies in this play, from the moment the lights went down. Both Sandy Greirson and Oliver Ryan appearing onstage, ready to play the role of Faustus. In unison, they light matches, and whoever’s match goes out first plays Faustus that evening. It’s purely down to chance.
It is made blatantly clear in this production that Faustus and Mephistophilis are two sides of the same coin. From their attire – Faustus in black and Mephistophilis in white, to the ending when Faustus stabs his demon but in doing so, kills himself.
Ryan’s portrayal of Mephistophilis was gripping. As soon as he entered the stage, you were forced to look in his direction, study his every move. However, the characterisation of the demon was somewhat detracted by his voice. Assuming that it was put on for the character, it made the demon seem ‘other-worldly’, but seemed very forced and uncomfortable, as well as making some lines difficult to hear.
The carnivalesque of the production was simply breathtaking. The special effects and dynamic music and dance made the show as overwhelming as if you were playing Faustus. The casting choice of Lucifer as Eleanor Wyld sent the audience mad. Seeing the most sinful and devious character in religion strut onstage in a pair of stilettos was completely unexpected. But Wyld owned the stage, being as dominant and fearsome as any male counterpart could have been. She fulfilled the role fantastically, making it one of the highlights of the night.
And of course, there’s the doctor. Played by Sandy Grierson on the night that I attended, he lived up to every expectation I could have of the character. Grierson captured Faustus’ intellect and egotism with skill and polish. He also managed to depict Faustus’ inner conflict with much more emotion and passion than could ever come across in the text, supported by the staging. The most haunting example when Faustus slits his own wrist to sign Lucifer’s contract.
Doctor Faustus is running at the Swan Theatre until October 1st. To get your tickets, visit their website or phone 01789 403493. People between the ages of 16 and 25 can also buy £5 tickets through the RSC Key.