Doctor Faustus Review: “Not perfect”

By Henry Jones

Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus was an ambitious production for the Collingwood College Woodplayers to take on. The plays’s self-claimed “modernisation” of Marlowe excited me, and it is a shame, therefore, that it did not live up to expectation.

My initial impression was that the stage left something to be desired. Black material had been carelessly hung as some form of backdrop, leaving part of the wings visible to even a fairly central seat, and a poorly dressed table essentially acted as the sole item of decoration for the play. However, it should be noted that the production was in Collingwood’s dining room, a rather limiting space, and the actors made good use of the stage.

From the onset, Henry Bird’s delivery of Faustus could have brought greater modulation and engagement with the audience, as he failed to generate an obvious difference between portrayals of sin and repentance. The drama’s greatest literary value lies in this tension between sin and salvation, and it seemed that this was almost entirely overlooked. I did, however, enjoy the closing scenes in which Faustus flounders in his confirmed damnation, set to one of the play’s few instances of music with a developing smoky haze and darkening light.

To the production’s credit, some of the other acting was rather good. Kyle Kirkpatrick’s rendition of Mephastophilis, for instance, was quite original and, once he warmed into the role, his almost erotic excitement at the thought of sin was an interesting portrayal.

There were, however, some rather awkward moments of blocking. On occasion, Kirkpatrick was left blankly standing on stage, waiting for the next line before resuming any kind of animation. Similarly, Bird sometimes pre-empted the action: for instance, removing his jacket and rolling up his sleeve before Mephastophilis had even asked him to cut his arm.

Director James Southall should not, however, be disheartened, as the audience witnessed several moments of directorial individuality which demonstrate real promise for a first-time director.

Yasmin Jones’s Lucifer was the most effectively sustained characterisation. She had an impressive stage presence and it is a shame that she only appeared a few times. However, it was a strange decision to have her deliver the closing warning about not overstepping God’s rule, given her role as the devil.

Special mention should also go to Robin and Rafe (Martin Doherty and Martin Shore respectively) who provided some impressive comic relief, although at times this did veer on the side of ‘panto’. Similarly, the Pope’s scene (led by Harry Stanbury) was well choreographed. Daniel Hodgson stood out as a particularly diverse actor, playing multiple small roles, and Tamzin Kerslake was also enjoyable to watch.

Southall’s decision to include the audience in the final explosion of party poppers was one of the more engaging moments of the play and, when followed by Faustus’s repenting doubt, it forced the audience to reflect on their engagement in his previous sin (something which I believe Marlowe intended with this scene).

The first half of the play was quite slick in terms of tech, with quick scene changes and a varied choice of lighting, but there were a couple of sound issues that I am sure will be ironed out after the first night. The second half, however, was largely set in normal light. This made a couple of the scene changes awkward, but more problematically it caused the production to drag.

Sadly, this play was not perfect and its meaning was somewhat lost. More could have been done with the set and tech, but really it was the acting that let the show down. Nonetheless, there were moments, like the Pope’s scene, which were captivating, and I feel that this demonstrates promise for Southall’s direction. If you do go and see the play, do not expect perfection, but there are occasional moments of enjoyment

Image: Collingwood College Woodplayers

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