Chronicling the hubristic rise and hellish fall of a man in his pursuit of pleasure and knowledge, Dr Faustus is a play that is truly terrifying to read and yet, rooted as it is in medieval theology, notoriously difficult to stage.
It is invariably challenging for a modern adaptation of the sixteenth century Marlowe play to depict the Devil, Mephistopheles, the good angel and the bad angel in a way that retains the terror they would have held for an Elizabethan audience without seeming crude or even farcical for a contemporary spectator. Director David Grimes of this EGTG production no doubt encountered these difficulties. The hellish fiends of this adaptation were clad in the conventional red and black, while the costumes of the good and bad angels would not have looked out of place at a student Halloween party. Not since the horror film flop ‘Insidious’ has the devil been portrayed so unimaginatively. The challenge of costume was clearly so insuperable that by the time it got the chorus it had presumably been abandoned altogether, so that the chorus figures stood clad only in black underwear for the entire performance. This was inexplicable and rather distracting.
For all these difficulties, few adaptations of Marlowe’s haunting tragedy could fail to be chilling, and the production was greatly aided by a very competent and assured performance by newcomer Jonathan Keddie as Faustus, excellently supported by Wendy Mathison as Mephistopheles. The verse of Marlowe was by and large faithfully adhered to and well grasped by the cast, even embraced with relish by some. However, there were of course some noticeable truncations, disappointingly even in some of the most powerful and famous speeches, for example Faustus’ final soliloquy in the hour of his death.
Nonetheless the final scene, in which Faustus is borne away to hell by Lucifer and his minions, was suitably fearsome. For all the minor distractions of bizarre costume choices and text quibbles, the performance was gripping and compelling throughout. It succeeded in luring the audience into Faustus’ pursuit of hedonism and thus evoked the pity and fear so crucial for the play’s tragic effect. Worth seeing.