- Doctor Faustusby Shakespeare's Globe
Marlowe's brooding eschatological drama is well suited to the somber gravitas of the richly panelled Sam Wanamaker Playhouse. The indoor, winter-season theater that complements the main, outdoor summer stage of the Globe is lit primarily by beeswax candles, creating an atmospheric gloom that accords suggestively with Faustus's soteriological crisis. Much like the playing space, which is less an exact reproduction than it is an inspired interpretation of the Jacobean Blackfriars theater, the Globe's 2018-19 production of Doctor Faustusprioritized the restorative energies of innovation over strict historical representation.
In vivid contrast to the shadowy theater, Jocelyn Jee Esien's portrayal of the titular Faustus was bright and almost cartoonish, a larger-than-life persona bouncing and bounding around the small, central stage. Esien's considerable charisma infused the infamous scholar with a youthful gusto that supported the character's unbridled ambition and voracious appetite for acquisitive knowledge. This exuberant Faustus complemented the kinetic style of the production, an outlook that attempted to modernize the morality play aspects of the drama that can appear curiously stilted. However, the tongue-in-cheek approach to characterization and style proved somewhat incongruent with the play's more serious meditations on salvation. For example, in the pivotal "consummatum est" scene when Faustus signs his name in his own blood on the writ for his soul—and in turn discovers his words etched into his own skin—this potentially sober moment instead turned darkly comic as the Doctor reacted with laughter-producing shock.
Nevertheless, by poking fun at itself and its own studied conventionality, the production's meta-theatricality proved to be an effective strategy for audience engagement. Libby Watson's elaborate and sumptuously designed costumes played an integral part in developing a visual language [End Page 429]that supported comprehension, though at the expense of some measure of subtlety. Angels were winged, scholars were cloaked, and Faustus's black and gold gown suggested the war between darkness and light—or more nearly, celebrity and obscurity—waging beneath her corset. The pageant of the seven deadly sins was particularly effective in its exaggerated and frequently humorous representations of mortal transgressions. This adaptation of morality convention was updated with what director Paulette Randall's program note termed a "respectful drawing [of] inspiration" from Brazilian Candomblé tradition. Globe Associate for Movement Glynn Macdonald employed this rather unconventional source skillfully to transform what could otherwise have been a confusingly dogmatic episode for a modern audience into a lithe and rhythmic spectacle that invited visceral connection.
By taking advantage of the various and often unexpected entry and egress points presented by the theater's design, the choreography by Paradigmz reflected the drama's historical reputation for exploring disconcerting potentialities. Characters appeared, disappeared, and then reappeared in surprising places—occasionally in the midst of the audience—suggesting the much remarked-on possibility of additional, genuine devils while simultaneously referencing thematic considerations of the blurred distinction between theatrical illusion and the real.
While the Globe's production adopted a liberal approach to the play text's complicated and contested integrity, the result was still cohesive and evenly-paced. The production successfully augmented the swiftly-paced dialogue with dynamic action, especially in the riotous central comic scenes. Though the farcical action of these elements contrasts sharply with the weighty subject matter of the dramatic scenes, on stage these episodes not only proved to be tremendously entertaining, but they also provided satirical elucidation for their dramatic counterparts. In particular, the famous horse-courser scene proved both entertaining and engaging. Faustus' fast-talking...