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A CurtainUp London London Review
Dr Faustus

For this is Hell, nor am I out of it. — Mephistopheles
Dr Faustus
Rear Arthur Darvill as Mephistopheles and Foreground Paul Hilton as Doctor Faustus (Photo: Keith Pattison)
Matthew Dunster's production of Marlowe's Dr Faustus has some memorable design coups, difficult to pull off in the round open air stage which is subject to natural daylight rather than special lighting effects. Set in the University of Wittenberg — yes the same one Hamlet went to where he met Rosencrantz and Guildenstern — it is the story of a man, a scientist who sells his soul to the Devil in the shape of Mephistopheles (Arthur Darvill). Quite what it is that Faustus gains from this bargain is never realised in any serious or fundamental way, as we see some magic tricks but he never seems to understand any more of the workings of the universe than he could already have known from studying the scientific texts available to him.

This production will be remembered for the visual and for a serious tale of sin and condemnation, the profusion of comedy. It opens with excitingly choreographed medieval scholars clothed in black Tudor hats and uniform but wearing sunglasses. They each carry a text and dance with the weighty book to music played by a band on the higher level balcony who wear bird feathered and beak headdresses. Faustus (Paul Hilton) is approached by Mephistopheles, the battle is fought between the Good Angel (Beatriz Romilly) and the Bad (Charlotte Broom) and the pact is signed in Faustus' own blood cut from his arm. Immediately Faust sees white faced, wigged courtiers in late 18th century court satins. A potential, racy wife is conjured for Faustus, a monstrous salacious creature with pendulous green breasts and a firework burning in her crotch. Faust sees the parade of the planets as the orbs are carried and spun in a spectacle. Completing Act One is the interesting portrayal of the Seven Deadly Sins, Pride, Covetousness, Envy, Wrath, Gluttony, Sloth and Lechery. Each is memorably and graphically staged, Wrath with swords and daggers, Gluttony a huge Humpty Dumpty type creature and Lechery lasciviously leaping on anyone and everyone.

The Second Act sees Faustus and Mephistopheles travelling to Rome on enormous, stage filling dragon skeletons with stretched red leather wings, each controlled by several puppeteers. In Rome a Papal procession fills the streets. A bloody battle ensues in Rome between Pope Adrian (Nigel Cooke) and Pope Bruno (Jonathan Cullen). Faustus returns to the Court of the Holy Roman Emperor and finally is rewarded with the vision of Helen of Troy, the most beautiful woman of all time, here a giant image on stilts with a classical Greek face from which Sarita Piotrowski emerges as a life sized Helen. Finally Faustus' twenty four magical years expire and he is carried to Hell.

In between the Faust story are many comic interludes featuring Faustus' manservant Wagner (Felix Scott) and his underling Robin (Pearce Quigley) greatly enjoyed by the Globe crowd but distracting in their triviality and serving to make the production seem disjointed and stilted in the name of Renaissance art. I liked the apparition where Faustus appears to have his head cut off as the apparently disembodied head appears below his chest.

Paul Hilton and Arthur Darvill as the protagonists do well, Hilton's serious concentration and Darvill's malicious hovering as he counts down the days to when he will claim Faustus' soul is suitably sinister when he is allowed to dominate the stage.

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Dr Faustus
Written by Christopher Marlowe
Directed by Matthew Dunster

Starring: Paul Hilton, Arthur Darvill
With: Charlotte Broom, Michael Camp, Richard Clews, Nigel Cooke, Jonathan Cullen, Robert Goodale, William Mannering, Sarita Piotrowski, Pearce Quigley, Iris Roberts, Beatriz Romilly, Felix Scott, Jade Williams, Chinna Wodu
Movement: Georgina Lamb
Design: Paul Wills
Composer: Jules Maxwell
Running time: Two hours 50 minutes including an interval
Box Office: 020 7401 9919
Booking to 2nd October 2011
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 23rd June 2011 performance at the Globe, New Globe Walk, London SE1 9DT (Rail/Tube: London Bridge, St Pauls)

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