This week I went to see the West Yorkshire Playhouse and Citizens Theatre Glasgow production of Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe and Colin Teevan. It’s a new adaptation directed by Dominic Hill, Artistic Director at the Glasgow theatre and a play I’d never seen before. Here’s the trailer:
I knew little of Marlowe’s play Doctor Faustus, or even Faust the German legend which inspired it, except for hearing of a recent Opera North production of Faust and a 1970s Krautrocker band called Faust (irrelevant point but I how often do you get an excuse to write Krautrocker? KRAUTROCKER).
The play tells the story of Doctor Faustus who sells his soul to the devil in exchange for knowledge and magical powers. I had heard there were new acts written for the play, inspired by but not necessarily based on the original, which made the play more relevant, accessible and definitely more interesting to me. The modern day references to bankers knowing the devil were amusing, for example. Don’t be fooled by look of the clown in the promotional material, it isn’t scary in a jumpy way, but some may find it disturbing depending on how seriously you take the notion of heaven and hell. Mephistopheles (as a female character in this production) casually tells us:
“Hell hath no limits, nor is circumscribed, In one self place; for where we are is hell, And where hell is there must we ever be”
in other words, hell is not a place, but a state of mind, which is often how I describe Yorkshire to fellow southerners (a state of mind that is, not in any way hellish).
Kevin Trainor was excellent in the lead role. At first he reminded me a bit of a more nerdy, more cuddly Mark Owen, and just like we eventually learnt there was some un-wholesome behaviour behind THAT singing, dancing baby face – Doctor Faustus dons a similar sequinned tailcoat and laps up the attention of fame as his pact with Lucifer takes shape. We don’t see him singing ‘Shine’ but the play is set backstage so it can’t be ruled out (Shine is an anagram of ‘He Sin’ after all).
I enjoyed the comical interludes which made the Elizabethan language much easier to digest. There was a dark and seedy but glamorous look to the production as it showed the sinful path Faustus was following. This was complete with a leather clad, beer swilling bad angel leading him into temptation and a white haired, knitting good angel reminding him of his chance for salvation. Full marks to the wardrobe and set designers team for their work on the grotesque seven deadly sins parade hosted by a sparkly-suited Lucifer. I loved this! I also really loved reading the playtext programme – how wonderful to get the script as an accompaniment and souvenir of the performance.
The moral of the story could be a number of things. If you’re bored with your life, do something positive to change it (without being smug about it)… if you’re given the chance to repent for your sins, take it (it is human to sin but humane to forgive and ask for forgiveness)… if you’re tempted to sell your soul to go on tour in a magic show, make sure it’s not supporting the band Cursed Necromancy. I know it’s the name of the dark arts but it just sounds like the worst kind of romance to me, and can never end well.
On to the playlist! I’ve added a little note by the tracklistings below to explain my soundtrack choices. It ain’t a sin to enjoy these tunes my friends.
- Depeche Mode – The Sinner In Me – When Faustus has mastered his own about divinity, he considers the Bible’s words, “If we say that we have no sin, / We deceive ourselves, and there is no truth in us” from the First Letter of John. He then reasons that all men sin, and so all men must die, dismissing this notion altogether as beneath him.
- Hot Chip – Doctor – Pride is a big theme in the play. Once proud to be a doctor, saving human lives is no longer enough for Faustus, he wants to have supernatural powers.
- Willy Mason – Sold My Soul – interesting that the new acts show the rise to fame and celebrity following Faustus selling his soul. Faustus even refers to his tour as a sell-out.
- The Ejected – 24 Years – this is the length of time Faustus gets before his soul is claimed – one year for every hour in the day because in reflection it will feel like just a day when he is damned to hell for eternity.
- Jay-Z – Lucifer – Satan himself was a fallen soul whose aspiring pride made him rebel against serving god and got him kicked out of heaven. Faustus endless quest to become more than mortal leads him down the same path. What an amazing name Lucifer is by the way! I know, I know.
- Crystal Castles – Magic Spells – His life-changing decision grants him access to the world of the rich and famous as he travels the world, performing magical illusions – the dark art of Necromancy – and seeing himself as some sort of demi-god.
- David Bowie – Fame – Finally after years of living in the shadows, he is getting female attention, celebrity friends and wealth. But was the price worth paying?
- The Glitch Mob – Starve The Ego, Feed The Soul – Opportunities for salvation come Faustus’ way a number of times but he ignores them, to his peril.
- Sleigh Bells – Road to Hell – He is in a hell of his own creation – it is not a set location with borders as such but a state of mind he is trapped in.
- Johnny Cash – Redemption Day – It seems fitting to finish with the words of Johnny Cash – “There is a train that’s heading straight/ To heaven’s gate, to heaven’s gate/And on the way, child and man, And woman wait, watch and wait/ For redemption day”
Doctor Faustus is on at the West Yorkshire Playhouse until 16 March. Tickets from £12 to £27, suitable for ages 14+ due to strong language and scenes of a sexual nature.