Demons, devils, and black magic; Marlowe’s Faustus is no light-hearted comedy. It’s ambitious stuff for students to undertake, and the play’s grandiose themes and supernatural setting create a lot of potential for disaster. Thankfully, this production has a strong lead, careful and meticulous direction, and will be staged at the magnificent Christ Church cathedral gardens – prospects for opening night are promising.
The success of this production rests on the shoulders of its lead, the brilliant but megalomaniacal Dr Faustus (Anirudh Mathur). I am happy to report that I have confidence in Mathur’s ability to carry the play – he is an excellent actor, both in physicality and in speech. He inches around the stage with a practiced hunch and twists his face with creepy, goat-like twitches. As I watched him it became quite plausible that he spends all his time in the shadow of dusty libraries studying ancient rituals. Equally important to the play’s success is Lucifer’s agent, Mephistophilis (Dominic Pollard), who shares many scenes with Faustus; their relationship forms the centrepiece of the play. Pollard’s voice is deep and drips with gravitas, and his reading of his complex lines was exact and convincing. However, he would do well to inject more energy into his movements or expressions; as it stands, Mathur’s agitated performance is a little jarring to watch alongside Pollard’s relatively restrained acting style.
As this preview took the form of an open rehearsal, I also had the fortune of being able to watch the way directors Jack Cottrell and Ellie Cook advised their actors and designed their play; it’s often a good indicator of what the final product will look like. Both of them have a very micromanaging style of direction, and aren’t afraid to stop and rewind a scene in progress if they feel that one of their actors has misjudged an intonation or read a line in an incorrect way. This is a good sign; it means that they have a keen eye for detail, and this should bode well for the final product. It was also heartening to see that Mathur and Pollard had strong ideas for their own characters’ development, so that the rehearsal was more of a two-way process than a hand holding exercise.
In a bare room in broad daylight, dressed in T-shirts and jeans, it is difficult to speak lines about damnation and Lucifer without sounding ridiculous, but Cottrell and his team made it work. At the Christ Church Cathedral Gardens, with everyone in full costume, this production of Dr Faustus should be a sight to behold.
PHOTO / Frida Printzlau