Doctor Faustus

Doctor Faustus is a new musical based on the Christopher Marlowe play/ancient story archetype. In this modernised telling, Emma Faustus is a pharmaceutical scientist who joins a shady company (HEL) to continue researching a cure for the disease that killed her girlfriend.

This production attempts to breathe new life into the Faustus story, but like Marlowe’s version of Helen of Troy, it is little more than a shadow of the original.

The production’s boldest idea is its worst. Doctor Faustus is a sung-through musical, like Hamilton or Les Mis, meaning all spoken dialogue is during a song. But there aren’t enough ideas to support the length of the piece. So many songs are just straight-up discussions without the usual trappings of music, like refrains, harmony, or repeated ideas. There are shallow attempts to establish character-based leitmotifs, but the pre-recorded instrumentals (driven by synth beats) don’t pop enough to sell those callbacks.

The few songs that do have solid concepts are successful. The tune that accompanies Faustus as she triumphantly tells her boss she’s quitting is a banger, with a catchy chorus, three-part harmony and (admittedly sloppy) choreography. Similarly, the closest thing to a villain song comes bursting with character and a tap-dancing number that is more energetic than good; and it is extremely energetic. I can’t help but feel that if the sung-through concept were abandoned, we’d have a better musical; one that didn’t have to fit the word “algorithm” into meter.

Those in search of the traditional Faustus and his tragic story might also be disappointed; this is not it. Mephistopheles, the devil, hardly has to tempt anyone, because HEL is never anything more than ‘vaguely suspicious’. Instead, it’s very much a story about moving on with your life after the death of a loved one, which is fine, but not what I came to see.

The set is pretty, and the five-strong cast do their utmost to sell the writing, but it’s not enough. This production attempts to breathe new life into the Faustus story, but like Marlowe’s version of Helen of Troy, it is little more than a shadow of the original.

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Performances

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The Blurb

Dr Emma Faustus, a medical researcher, is on a personal mission to cure Valdes’ disease. With no hope of funding, she turns to Mephistopheles for a more extreme solution. Lucifer’s company will provide her with everything she could ever want in exchange for an eternity of employment. From Tiger House Theatre comes a new musical, developed under the supervision of Claude-Michel Schönberg (Les Misérables) during his workshops at St Catherine’s College, Oxford, retelling the legend of Faust for the modern age.

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