Friday, 14 December 2012

FAUSTUS! Come get yer chips!

Okay, I'll admit it. I am excited about the new season at The Citizens. Not only are they putting on Stewart Laing's version of The Maids (see previous posts for how much I love this play), they are producing Doctor Faustus. The announcement that Siobhan Redmond is playing mighty Mephistopheles is a bonus - she knocked me out as Lady Macbeth in Dunsinane and a female devil is exactly what would tempt this critical Faustus. But what really excites me is the revival of a script that isn't Shakespeare but has the same verbal intensity as Old Bill.

Marlowe's script, although I hear that a couple of the acts are going to be updated by Colin Teevan, is one of the few works that excite me even as a mere text. Sure, Pinter's great on stage but takes ten minutes to read - it's a bunch of pauses and non-sequiturs. Marlowe, and this is unlike Shakespeare, isn't afraid to get serious about his theology and Faustus has kept its relevance even in an age where God is often reduced to a metaphor.

It's a classic story - man sells soul to the devil, finds out that he's got a bum deal - and each age has had a crack at retelling it. Becoming a symbol of the dangers of too scientific an approach to life - Marlowe's Faustus rejects the idea of hell in much the same phrase as brilliant biologist Richard Dawkins - it has been recreated at every level, from Callum MacAskill's one man Fringe hit through to the International Festival's epic hosting of Purcarete's remix. Alex Smoke even soundtracked the film version for the Glasgow Film Festival in 2011.

What makes Marlowe's version thrill me is that it refuses to give Faustus a happy ending - his final speech is a belter of absolute despair - and it grapples with the theology of its time in an accessible, poetic manner. Much contemporary atheism is so pleased with itself, as if it is the first generation ever to have worked out that there might not be a good. Marlowe - who got accused of it himself, back when it was less a shorthand for "being clever" than "being treasonous" - portrays a man who maintains a godlessness even in the face of seeing devils pop in for a cup of tea.

Mind you, he gets to sleep with Helen of Troy. That might have distracted him from worrying about his soul.

Citizens Theatre & West Yorkshire Playhouse
DOCTOR FAUSTUS(Christopher Marlowe and Colin Teevan)
Directed by Dominic Hill
Design by Colin Richmond
Lighting by Tim Mitchell
Music by Dan Jones
Thu 4 April – Sat 27 April, 7.30pm

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