Matching parts

Sandy Grierson and Oliver Ryan decide the burning question of who is to play Faustus. Pictures: Helen Maybanks.

Doctor Faustus

Swan Theatre

Stratford-upon-Avon

*****

CHRISTOPHER Marlowe's Faustus is the terrifying story of a man who sells his soul to the devil and the consequences and regrets that follow.

Maria Aberg’s creative interpretation of the Elizabethan play produces a sort of spiritual awe of the darkness of Faustus’ mind.

The premise of the play is based upon an interesting concept which comes at the beginning. A match is to determine who plays Faustus and Mephistophilis, which gives a completely different experience to the audience each night.

Actors Sandy Grierson and Oliver Ryan, who look strikingly alike, enter and face each other in silence. They then strike a match at the same time and the first to extinguish has the role of Faustus. Tonight, Grierson played Faustus and Ryan was Mephistophilis.

Grierson jumped into the role without hesitation and the preparation and skill of both actors to perform with such demand is commendable, not knowing who they will play each night.

Grierson is a marvellous Faustus. He comes across as a university lecturer or teacher, stressed in study and conflicted between ideas. In the first scenes, Grierson contemplateLucifers his books and studies on a minimal set that consists of wooden boxes and a table at the side.

Soon after making the decision to call on Mephistophilis, he literally cuts away the back walls and throws away the books and boxes to make way for a new future. Faustus’ journey within Grierson’s performance is particularly interesting to watch.

His Scottish lilt gives him a general roughness and we see the innocence of the doctor we first encounter turn into the power hungry and insensitive man. By the end, he realises his mistakes and understands that he is doomed for an eternity in hell.

Princess of darkness: Eleanor Wyld as Lucifer

Grierson feels every emotion within each word of the script. His performance is remarkable and to think that he does not know if he will perform Faustus on any particular night is a fine testament to his skill on stage.

Ryan’s Mephistophilis is equally fantastic to watch. With a chilling disposition and cunning persona, Ryan brings the devil like creature to life. He is in tune to Marlowe’s words in that ‘hell is everywhere’ and presents himself as a man like any other.

The costume choice is very similar to Faustus’, which allows the audience to see the reflections of character. A particularly touching moment was in Ryan’s emotional account of the entrance of Helen of Troy, in the famous speech ‘is this the face that launched a thousand ships’.

The various changes of set happen right before our eyes. Naomi Dawson’s creative design gives a breath taking account of Elizabethan spirituality. Faustus paints pagan figures and symbols on the ground to conjure up Mephistophilis and waits for his arrival. Costumes are a spectacular addition to the production, creating a completely different underground and devilish world on stage.

It is however the work of the company and ensemble that give the finishing touches to make this production a mesmeric experience. The cast play ghouls and devils and flit between each scene. The overall atmosphere of the production is heightened by their energetic presence. Choral scenes that allude to speaking in tongues give frightening exposure to hell on earth.

Perhaps the most memorable of scenes is the entrance of the seven deadly sins. Pride, Covetousness, Wrath, Envy, Gluttony, Sloth and Lechery all have their place and are embodied wonderfully by each actor. They are personified with costume and together make a scary unison and artistic introduction to life in hell.

Music by Orlando Gouch adds another element to make the production deliciously terrifying. The company made clear the difference between living earth and hell in each scene. The dark underworld scenes are frighteningly rich in atmosphere, but are never generic. Faustus veers more and more away from living in the mortal world until there is no way out of hell. There are scenes of bloodshed and sacrifice which are intensely graphic and lead the audience with pace and atmosphere from scene to scene.

Lucifer is played by the seductive Eleanor Wyld. The character choice is unconventional as she is dressed in a white power suit and looks far from the usual connotations of what Lucifer is perceived to be. In her powerful and scheming charm, she is the leader of hell and commands all to follow her.

The production reflects the imagery of Marlowe’s dark thoughts and representation of spirituality in Elizabethan England. Aberg’s awe inspiring creativity in every element of the production gives way to a spectacular experience. Ensemble and music help to cement the heights already marked by incredible performances by the cast. To 04-08-16

Elizabeth Halpin

11-04-16 

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