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Reviewed by:
  • Doctor Faustus
  • Kirk Melnikoff
Doctor Faustus Presented by Little Goblin Productions at The Rose Bankside Theatre, London. June 19, 2011. Directed by Vince Tycer. Produced by Claire Craig. With Christopher Diacopoulos (Faustus), Cheska Moon (Mephistophilis), Zimmy Ryan (Devil, Evil Angel, Seven Deadly Sins, Friar, Emperor, Duchess, Helen of Troy), Mark Kavanagh (Devil, Good Angel, Clown, Beelzebub, Friar, Alexander the Great, Duke of Vanholt, and Third Scholar), Chris Slater (Devil, Second Schlolar, Lucifer, Lord of Lorrain, Knight), Tim Fordyce (Devil, First Scholar, Pope, Horse-Courser), and Holly Clark (Chorus, Wagner, Devil, Paramour, Old Man).

On the face of it, the present Rose Bankside theatre has no business being anything other than a kitschy labor of love bolstered by a dankly illuminated past and an etch-a-sketch future. Advertised by a diminutive sandwich board 150 yards from the glitzy, overrun New Globe, this newly launched venue can only offer an oblong 40' by 15' seating-area/stage perched under a huge office building and alongside the Rose's cavernous archeological remains. Coffee, tea, stolid pastries, postcard history, and membership info for the anti-Stratfordian "Marlowe Society" (not to be confused with the Marlowe Society of America) greet patrons in the theatre's cramped waiting area, as do enthusiastic docent musings and paper flyers advertising the coming of a fabulous new Rose Theatre (funding yet to be determined). And like Henslowe's venue, this Rose lacks a resident troupe, and is compelled instead to populate its scaffold with small start-up theatrical companies from around London. But despite all of this, the Doctor Faustus that I saw on a Sunday afternoon amid sanguine Renaissance theatre buffs, lost Globe patrons, and friends and families of the cast, did not disappoint. It offered a provocative portrait of Faustus and the world amidst smart doubling and inspired choreography.

Eschewing even two hours of traffic, this Faustus ran 75 minutes without intermission, and it enacted a cut A text (sans Robin, sans Rafe) with no borrowings from the B. Performed by a company with only seven actors, the production was also heavily doubled, with five of the seven performers playing multiple roles. From the opening, all of the players remained visible on stage, making costume changes, scene "exits," and set changes in full view of the audience. Given the limitation of the Rose's one-exit stage, this was undoubtedly a choice born of practicality, but it also helped underscore Faustus's predicament as a man living his life on a scaffold ever manipulated by dark forces from without. And with few exceptions, scenes flowed seamlessly from one to the next, giving the [End Page 218] production a forward momentum that well complimented this Faustus's inevitable progress towards damnation.

Whereas many of the best productions of Marlowe's masterpiece have fully committed to the play's incessant ironies, Tycer's Faustus proved more one-dimensional in its approach. Here, a familiar good struggled with a familiar evil, but even before Faustus sold his soul, Hell's denizens were shown enjoying a stark rule, confidently lounging in Faustus's chair and desk at the protagonist's first entrance. Neither the promises of the Good Angel nor the pleas of the Old Man could do much in Wittenberg's gothic mis-en-scene, dominated as it was by the Devil and his minions. At times, this evil had a distinctly vampirish feel, with Mephistophilis and the demons hissing and staring at Faustus with aplomb in the grand tradition of Hollywood's Stoker; at other times, this threat was more Night of the Living Dead, the demons moving around Faustus with the fits, starts and moans of zombies past and present. If there ever was a moment of suspense in the production it came during the Helen of Troy scene when Holly Clark's bag-lady Old Man rose up to plead loudly for Faustus's attention. Thirty seconds of light, however, ended quickly with Clark being pounced upon by demons while Mephistophilis prepared Faustus for the entrance of Helen. Faustus's move to embrace "the face that launched a thousand ships" was ultimately accompanied on the other side of the stage by the Old Man...


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