Taking a contemporary twist on an Early Modern classic, Daniel McVey’s adaptation of Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus is dangerous, dark and entrancing.
“Faustus is frustrated by his thirst for knowledge and wisdom”
First performed in 1597, Doctor Faustus tells the tale of a German intellectual who, seeking enlightenment, makes a deadly deal with Mephistopheles, a servant of Satan. Having exhausted his studies in vast areas including medicine, philosophy, law and theology, Faustus is frustrated by his thirst for knowledge and wisdom. In return for his soul, Faustus will earn 24 years of companionship on earth with Mephistopheles, who promises to provide him with ultimate truth. Director McVey’s version is shorter and neater, with fewer characters and modernised language.
“Faustus is feeling lost with an inability to feel, causing his world to be bland, thus the set depicted this perfectly”
The set and costume design was simplistic yet striking. With black and white costumes and a matching colour scheme for the set, the appearance of the stage mirrored Faustus’ description of his ‘monochrome hell’. As explained in an early monologue, Faustus (played by Morgan Beale) is feeling lost with an inability to feel, causing his world to be bland, thus the set depicted this perfectly. With minimalist props and costumes, the focus was on the actors, who each performed exceptionally well. Praise should particularly be given to Beale and Grace Williams as Mephistopheles, who led the performance with confidence.
One of the most memorable parts of this play was the audience participation. Before entering the auditorium, the spectators were asked to write down what they desire most, a selection of which were then later read aloud by the Seven Deadly Sins. This creativity gave the performance a level of personalisation and originality. The choreography and dance elements were also very clever and inventive. For example, Faustus’ desperation for knowledge is demonstrated through his climbing over the books mid-air held by cast members.
“The central themes of the play were maintained; religion, morality, magic and death”
The production team and actors were successful in updating Doctor Faustus for a 21st century audience. For instance, references were made to events such as the Stanford Prison Experiment of 1971 and Stanley Milgram’s experiment of 1974, demonstrating examples of human obedience that resulted in evil. The central themes of the play were maintained; religion, morality, magic and death, but with additional allusions to mental health and addiction. The heavy use of lighting, music, sound effects and videography also helped to modernise the performance. Proving its ongoing relevance, even audience members unfamiliar with Marlowe’s work will find it easy to keep up with the play.
Despite being a tragedy, the performance was injected with comic moments. Most notably, when Faustus mocks the Emperor’s knight by giving him a pair of horns. Although I personally preferred the first act of the play, the second was successful in breaking down the fourth wall between the actors and spectators, thus challenging the expectations of the audience. Without wanting to give away too many spoilers, the play’s cyclical nature makes perceptive comments about the nature of truth and reality.
“Doctor Faustus is truly one of my favourite performances that I have seen at The Nottingham New Theatre”
The audience were left wondering what Faustus’ fate will be, feeling cathartic and satisfied. Whatever your perceptions of Marlowe and theatre by Shakespeare’s contemporaries, McVey’s interpretation will make you think again. Doctor Faustus is truly one of my favourite performances that I have seen at The Nottingham New Theatre, and the whole cast and crew should be highly commended for their efforts to create such an innovative and imaginative performance.
Featured Image courtesy of Nottingham New Theatre Official Facebook Page.