‘Loud, funny, shocking, rude and provocative’ is how director Mike Taylor describes Doctor Faustus, and his production very nearly makes good on this promise. The acting is first-class, the script sly and amusing, and the production full of (literal) pyrotechnics. However, the transposition of the action to the modern day neither adds anything substantial to Marlowe’s work, nor comments on today’s society. Billed as a critique of our frivolous, pleasure-saturated world, the focus of the production rarely ranges wider than Faustus’ own fatal pride. Don’t let this put you off, though: while hardly deep, this is a wickedly entertaining production with a lot to offer the viewer.
If there’s one element of Faustus that deserves particular praise, it’s the cast: there’s not an obviously weak link among this group, most of whom play multiple roles so skilfully that it’s hard to make yourself believe they’re the same person. Most impressive is undoubtedly Bayley Eyley as Mephistopheles: poised and imperious, she moves as though her body is a precision instrument designed to snare Faustus’ soul. Her chilling demeanour is in sharp contrast with Joshua Hall’s Faustus who is more student than scholar and uses his vast knowledge for nothing more significant than impressing besotted girls. From his impetuous, self-aggrandising pact with Mephistopheles to his clear surprise and fear when events don’t go as planned, he is a very young, naive Faustus, and this characterisation brings real freshness to a character often presented as a jaded old man. Among the supporting cast, Lindsey-Anne Bridges as Robin stands out for her excellent comic timing, and puts in an equally convincing performance as the evil angel.
Faustus’ arrogance fits well with the irreverent approach taken to the script. While the language is that of the sixteenth century, the intonation is that of the twenty-first, bringing unexpected humour to the hellfire and brimstone. If you’ve ever wanted to hear an all-powerful sorcerer gasp ‘Oh my god’ like a shocked undergrad, now’s your chance. However, his modern slant can seem inconsistent: while Lucifer is presented as a sleazy chat-show host, later scenes feature courtiers in what appears to be period dress. Similarly, the video screen above the stage – used effectively during Mephistopheles’ genuinely frightening initial entrance – is ignored for most of the play, when it could easily have been used to enhance the production in exciting new ways.
The Oxford Theatre Guild’s Faustus doesn’t quite live up to the promise of its modern setting – it’s entertaining rather than earth-shattering – but its wit, irreverence and impressive acting still make for a fun night out.
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