Magpie Theatre present Faustus, Christopher Marlowe’s classic tale of soul selling and damnation. Directed by Neve McLaughlin, assisted by James Weatherley-Buss, this modern interpretation of devilish delights explores temptation and guilt in an original way.
Faustus (Solenna Le Goff) finds herself dissatisfied with theology and life and begins to explore necromancy which leads to her summoning the demon Mephistopheles (Charlie Collinson). She offers to give her soul to Lucifer (Kel Nkondock) in exchange for four-and-twenty years of pleasure and service from Mephistopheles. The deal is agreed to, sealed with a deed signed with Faustus’ own blood and debauchery begins. But four-and-twenty years pass quickly when one is having fun, and Faustus soon begins to regret the pact.
The actors wear modern costume, employing suits to symbolise characters of high status and a palette of black, red, white and grey to illustrate, sometimes ironically, the moral core of different characters. Together with coloured lighting, the costumes give the show an atmospheric feel, though on occasion the effect is lessened, for example, when red lighting causes red costumes to fade into the background.
Sound effects are also used very well to create a sense of ominousness and discomfort. The language of the play is, as always, also disconcerting and the pace of the performance has been kept slow to enhance the sense of foreboding. On occasion, further consideration needs to be given to enunciation to prevent the effect of the words being lost.
The set is relatively simple, employing the often used desk, at which Faustus considers good and evil which doubles up as a table in various other locations. The addition of a record player is an original touch and creates a sense of displacement, reminding us that this is a story which transcends period. From the moment the pentagram is scrawled onto the stage, it remains ever present, never allowing us to forget the deal Faustus has made.
Le Goff’s performance is good, showing both sides of the character very well. She keeps her emotions very much at the surface and the rollercoaster of Faustus’ story is very well represented. Collinson’s portrayal as the complex demon is an original combination of tragedy and comedy. It does sometimes feel like he is pulling away from the performance, and it wasn’t always clear if this holding back was deliberate.
Nkondock’s portrayal of Lucifer is that of a smiling assassin and creates a sense of mischievousness. Revelling more in the darker elements of the character would lead to a far more frightening atmosphere, as often it appears that Faustus should be far more worried about the melancholy Mephistopheles than the dark lord herself, which does sometimes feel like an oversimplification of the complex relationship the three characters share.
The Scholars (Noah Ottman and Lizzy Paes) are wonderful comic relief. Fun, immature and reverent in the extreme towards Faustus, their performance deserves credit. They are both also particularly good in the Seven Deadly Sins scene, playing Gluttony and Pride respectively. This scene has been done in an unusual and original way, using elements of physical theatre and mime. Alex Burke’s comic portrayal of Robin is also excellent with wonderful timing and brilliant physicality.
The take on the Helen of Troy scene is very unique. Helen’s (Anastasia Kulaeva) standoffish portrayal creates a sense of fear and shows Faustus to be the diabolical and vile individual that she truly is, an element of the character rarely explored fully.
As the play progresses, the atmosphere becomes increasingly creepy as the inevitable approaches. The climax is an emotional and disturbing ending to an original interpretation of this classic Jacobean play.
Magpie Theatre are a Liverpool based theatre company who perform shows in and around the city. You can find out more about them on their website or by following them on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
Faustus is being performed again at the Hope Street Theatre on 30 January 2020. Tickets are available here.
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