at Shakespeare’s Globe, Thursday 21st July 2011
Some have expressed surprise that Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus hasn’t been produced at the Globe before now. Surely, they argue, as one of the Elizabethan masterpieces, it should have been explored at least once before now. Matthew Dunster’s production makes it relatively easy to understand why; this is a play which, even though it lends itself to spectacle, never feels tragic enough in a safe, enclosed environment like this.
I am yet to see hubris work in the wooden ‘O’; audiences fall about laughing in this auditorium, but never seem to grasp true remorse. Dunster fails to remind us that Faustus’ time is continually running out, and subsequently all we end up watching is the spectacle and the comedy, both of which work brilliantly.
Steve Tiplady’s puppet design successfully puts creepy ghosts and spirits on stage without reverting to cliches. The repeated image of a goat’s skull sends shivers down the spine, and coupled with Richard Pinner’s ‘magic’ there are some unexpected coups des theatre.
Jules Maxwell’s music begins with punch, but slowly becomes fairly dull and predictable, and Georgina Lamb’s puppet-like choreography never really gets a showing past the first act. There are lots of good ideas here, but the bizarre layering of them sometimes makes it feels like they’ve been created by GCSE students.
Arthur Darvill’s Mephistopheles is hardly one to lose sleep over, but the humanity which shines through is often touching. Paul Hilton’s quick-witted Faustus isn’t a tortures soul but a free spirit, and he too has some moments of brilliance (specifically the first scene). But the two actors who shine through are cast in comic roles; Felix Scott as Wagner acts as our chaperone, and his effeminate Emperor is inspired. Without a doubt, however, it’s Pearce Quigley’s gloriously deadpan Robin that steals the show. Once again, comedy prevails here.
This is by no means a bad production, but audience members would be forgiven for not realising that Faustus is one of the iconic tragic parts. Hubris is all but nonexistent, and until I see tragedy performed effectively at Shakespeare’s Globe, I’m sticking to my belief that this is a space for comedy.