"the gloomy shadow of despair"
by Peter Carrington for remotegoat on 07/02/14

Marking the 450th anniversary of Christopher Marlowe, the Rose theatre stages an adaptation of Dr Faustus in the space where it was first performed. Conjuring up such spirits is risky, but this production is creepy, engaging and looks into a pit of despair as gloomy as the shadows of the archaeological site itself.

The tale is familiar to many, Faustus; a learned man tired of his studies seeks knowledge and power and so sells his soul to Lucifer. To achieve his ambitions he is given the demonic spirit Mephistopheles to serve him. Faustus makes the world his playground but as the end of his bargained time draws near he despairs at his inevitable end. What is unique is that this adaptation is a one man show with Faustus, in the form of plainly dressed Christopher Staines. As such it is a stripped down tale with Mephistopheles as a disembodied voice and some scenes played out with paper dolls (which is much better than it sounds). In making this decision and Martin Parr’s direction makes this production feels like a supernatural Beckett-esque monologue. Faustus (if indeed it is he) wrestles with himself and sees images in his mind’s eye making the audience question whether what he experiences is real or this is a self-tormenting ritual for this character. As this is obviously not a traditional adaptation do not expect to see any of the comedic scenes or characters who are not essential to the central storyline. However, the strength of adapting the play in this way is that the central story feels more like a universal tale of the feeling of self-loathing, desperation, neurosis and lonely despair.

This production has the eerie and spacious backdrop of the archaeological site of the Rose Theatre; filled with candles it conjures the idea of a cavernous pit. The subtle yet effective sound design by Chris Traves as well as Staines voice echo into it, the candles throw shadows around and Faustus stares into the darkness of his despair. The stage itself is small, allowing Staines to interact with the audience a little, holding the gaze of everyone there and using it to his advantage every time – drawing the audience in to his world or sending shudders down their spine with a penetrating glance. Overall the direction and production is powerful, taking the audience on the journey of forbidden knowledge, elation and terror. It is a very energetic and haunting performance, supported by the eerie space, direction and sound. Please consider supporting the Rose Theatre to continue the excavation and to produce exciting work such as this.

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