Doctor Faustus Review - RSC, Stratford-on-Avon - The Stratford Observer

Doctor Faustus Review - RSC, Stratford-on-Avon

James Iles 11th Feb, 2016 Updated: 25th Nov, 2023   0

Doctor Faustus

RSC Swan Theatre



THERE’S always something a bit bonkers about a Maria Aberg production – and this is no exception.

Other RSC outings from the Swedish director have included a bizarre King John with a female bastard and a King with a propensity to burst into a Frankie Valli song, and a Glastonbury Festival take on As You Like It.

A little bonkers perhaps, but As You Like It certainly proved compelling, and her take on Marlowe’s Devil-dealing doctor is also.

It all starts with actors Sandy Grierson and Oliver Ryan taking to the stage alone where they each light a match. The one whose match burns out first gets the short straw if you will and plays the dammed doc, while the other plays Lucifer’s henchman Mephistophilis. It’s compelling viewing in its own right.

Things begin a little leaden. The doctor, deciding he now knows it all, opts for a life of witchcraft. He proceeds to spend about five minutes throwing out all his books, before painting a pentagram on the stage with his own shirt, and then summoning the devil. His lengthy incantation creates a genuine unease, which is ruined somewhat when Mephistophilis steps out from behind a curtain looking more like a Miami Vice extra than Beelzebub’s minion.

But once the deal is sealed it’s a real romp with a gamut of grotesques, from a Rocky Horror Show-like seven deadly sins to the Devil herself – who in this case is a platinum blonde in a white jumpsuit.

It’s a very physical production, which at times is more akin to modern ballet, including a most strange late on encounter between the doctor and Helen of Troy.

Music is present almost throughout, and Orlando Gough’s soundtrack works really well, although it has to be said the couple of original songs included are not good.

This might be a Faustus more for the Dr Who generation than the one Marlowe might have imagined, but it’s certainly fun, and at under two hours does not outstay its welcome.

Doctor Faustus runs until August 4.

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