17 Feb 2011

""Don’t Try This At Home" "

By: Julia Gasper.

This production by Creation Theatre Company of Marlowe’s tragedy Dr Faustus takes place in the unusual venue of the Norrington Room at Blackwell’s Bookshop in Broad Street. The underground place, stuffed with thousands of books, is appropriate for many reasons.

This Elizabethan play about a learned university man and his rash pact with the devil is all about the power of books, especially the wrong books in the wrong hands. Being underground aids in creating an ominous atmosphere and gives us a feeling of kinship with the devils who rise from Hell, in the bowels of the earth.

When the audience is seated all around the central raised platform, the result is really rather like an early Elizabethan performance in a courtyard and it offers theatre in the round.

The all-male cast is another authentic touch, and a total of five men using body-language, athletic fights, mime and dance-like sequences, suffices to present everything. Gus Gallagher as Faustus gives us a vigorous performance that conveys the ambivalence of this anti-hero. His thirst for knowledge beyond the bounds of orthodox academic and ecclesiastical limits is both understandable and completely modern. We cannot blame him for that. His desire for power, however, is more dubious and it is through this irresponsible ambition that the devil takes control of him. Gwynfor Jones as Mephistopheles gives in some ways the best performance here: gloomy, morose, and full of a sort of contemptuous pity for Faustus.

There are some drawbacks to this venue and this approach. Where I was sitting, in seat B30, the low-slung spotlights constantly dazzled my view and the wooden knobs on the railing didn’t help either. While there is a bravado in doing a whole play with only five actors, the middle scenes in which Faustus is supposed to have some very exciting experiences need something more to make an impact. A few more props, more masks and some more flamboyant costumes for the Emperor and his court would help. Perhaps with a bit of imagination they could find a way of representing Helen of Troy more visibly? I thought that when the Pope used Bruno as his footstool, it would be more effective for Bruno to kneel down so that it is his back that is trodden on. Would that cause permanent injury? However, the final scene in which Faustus is carried off to Hell succeeds in achieving both tension and real shock at the end. http://www.creationtheatre.co.uk/

Productions of Dr. Faustus are rare and anyone who is interested in Elizabethan plays should not miss this one. It will be talked about for a long time.

Julia Gasper.

 1st Aerials Oxford




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