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Theatre review: Doctor Faustus 
15th-Sep-2011 11:23 pm
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rawing this year's Globe season to a close for me¹ is Christopher Marlowe's most famous play, Doctor Faustus, though I'd argue against it being his best as a piece of drama at least: Its structure is so loose it makes Shakespeare's comedies look linear and tightly-plotted. What it is designed to provide, along with theological debate, is spectacle, and Matthew Dunster's production rises to this challenge. The multi-tasking supporting cast is never off stage for long, providing a dancing chorus of Wittenberg scholars, apparitions and of course demons, while puppetry, stage magic and much use of the trap doors keep the wonders of the universe coming. There's also a dark side to the spectacle when Jonathan Cullen's Pope Bruno is pretty graphically tortured by the rival Pope Adrian (Nigel Cooke.) Jules Maxwell's music is a major element in the production, not just making you tap your feet as soon as it strikes up but also creating a huge amount of atmosphere. While this pageantry all provides a lot of sound and fury it's also effective at showing how pathetic Faustus' ambition ultimately is: Having started the play claiming he'll be a god on earth for his 24 remaining years, Faustus ends up settling for becoming a glorified magician to the courts of Europe, and this is what he sold his soul for.

On top of nice costumes and books bursting into flame there's no shortage of pleasant things to look at from my point of view: Doctor Who's Arthur Darvill gives a somewhat bipolar take on the demon Mephistopheles, his trademark melancholy bursting into the odd manic episode, and there's also Michael Camp as the Duke and Felix Scott as Faustus' servant Wagner. The farcical interludes really do feel rather random but Pearce Quigley's hangdog Robin is the kind of comic relief I much prefer to some of the gurning being seen elsewhere in this Globe season. Perhaps a bit more editing of the text would have helped streamline what is still a show that lulls at times, but the final scene is an absolute masterpiece. Paul Hilton in the title role is strong throughout but really pulls out all the stops here, his agonised monologue as the hour of his damnation draws near is every bit as watchable as the subsequent pageant of hell finally claiming his soul; a finale that balances the spectacular with the sinister.

Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe is in repertory until the 2nd of October at Shakespeare's Globe.

¹though a return Much Ado trip is still on the cards
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