Doctor Faustus

Christopher Marlowe’s most famous play, Doctor Faustus, tells the story of a man who, having learned everything it is possible to learn, is tempted to seek greater knowledge by selling his soul to the devil – a decision he comes to regret.

This Bard in the Botanics production features only three actors, all of whom give excellent performances.

This Bard in the Botanics production features only three actors, all of whom give excellent performances. Adam Donaldson’s Faustus is rather endearing, a broken man motivated more by despair than lust for knowledge and power. Ryan Ferrie is clearly having a great time playing all the different roles the play requires, and he’s a real pleasure to watch. His ‘Pope’, during the play’s one moment of levity, is a delight. However, Stephanie McGregor really steals the show; her demonic Mephistopheles is engaging and capricious, and she takes full advantage of the most emotionally complex role in the show.

Director Jennifer Dick’s solution to her small cast – the play would usually be performed by about eight people – is to imply that all Faustus’ adventures are actually illusions that Mephistopheles is conjuring. This is a neat fix. It adds to the tragedy of the story by suggesting that Faustus gets nothing but illusions in exchange for his soul, and is a solid explanation for why a man dressed as an angel is playing all the other roles. It also allows this heavily edited version of the play to hang together in a completely coherent way that is easy to follow.

Less understandable is Dick's decision to radically alter Faustus’ motivation. In the original play, Faustus’ first request is “let me have a wife... for I am wanton and lascivious.” By contrast, Dick’s Faustus opens the play contemplating suicide but lacking the courage to cut his own wrists. He wears a wedding ring, and his first request is “let me have my wife”, implying that he has sold his soul to be reunited with an invented dead wife. This is, of course, a complete change of the central character, and it's unclear why it has been done. It doesn't illuminate any interesting aspects of Faustus' character, because these characteristics just weren’t there in the original. Interpretation is stretched to breaking point when key lines have to be changed to shoehorn in motivations that just weren’t there in the original script.

Also unfortunate is the way in which the script has been edited. It has kept every moment in which Faustus considers changing his mind about the deal, but cut a lot of the rest of the play. The result is a production that borders on the histrionic, with Faustus never enjoying his bargain, and instead whining from start to finish about the state of his soul. By the end, it beggars belief that he wouldn’t just change his mind if he was so sad about what he’d done.

In all, this is a coherent, enjoyable interpretation of the play, even if it does make a few false moves.

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The Blurb

Doctor John Faustus, a scholar, makes a terrible and terrifying bargain with the Devil. He will give up his immortal soul in exchange for 24 years of power and excess. Attended by the demon Mephistopheles, he embarks on a life full of indulgence, proud and unrepentant. A Good Angel accompanies them, ever hopeful of saving Faustus from himself and the horrifying fate that awaits him if he cannot find penitence.

Doctor Faustus is the inaugural production in a new strand of work for Bard in the Botanics, showcasing the work of Shakespeare’s contemporaries – Writing the Renaissance. Don’t miss this thrilling and theatrical new adaptation of Marlowe’s iconic classic, played by three actors in the spectacular setting of the Kibble Palace Glasshouse.

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