The infamy of Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus largely lives on due to its representations of moral ambiguity, spirituality, and the dark arts. So, perhaps it’s no wonder then as to why the 1592 text still resonates in an era that feels as dark and as morally ambiguous as ever. Plan B Productions brings the doctor to the 21st century with their technologically adventurous #Faustus, by Kit Marlowe- a digital adaptation of the original deal with the devil.
Keeping much of Marlowe’s original wordage, though pairing down Faustus’ original ill-fated contract from 24 years to 24 hours (an apt observation on the rapid-fire pace of daily life in 2018 and also a nice way to bring a sense of verisimilitude to they story), the play takes us swiftly through Faustus’ summoning of the demon Mephistopheles, selling his soul to Lucifer, and his ultimate damnation. Set alongside some pretty incredible technical elements including video recordings and projections, #Faustus has a cool and fresh feeling to it.
The majority of the show’s design appears projected on three large white flats placed upstage. When you first enter the space you are greeted with splashes of various news articles and headlines reporting on various geo-political crises, which ties in later when Faustus, drunk with Lucifer’s power and foresight, starts hacking into anything his keyboard can get him access to and causes global chaos where we see footage of missiles launching, stock markets crashing, and the like. Conversations with friends take place over Skype There’s also the clever details like using a Terms and Conditions document to serve as the contract and then in the very next scene Mephistopheles enters eating an apple- whether or not it was intentional, I certainly took that as a comment on how we often sign these complex (and legally binding) contracts without reading them in exchange for the next iPhone, let’s say. On a technical level, this show is really well executed with the actor’s physical movements often having to follow or seemingly guide the videos or images very precisely and that’s exciting coming from a Fringe show where, more often than not (given the limited tech time the artists’ have loading into their space), stages are kept relatively minimal.
Where I think this production has room to grow, however, is in the performances themselves. Faustus, played by William Beddoe, is always at one level which makes it difficult to discern his arc and also doesn’t ever give the audience a chance to empathize with his plight. Steph Goodwin as Mephistopheles seems a little hesitant on stage sometimes and could afford to go even more sinister with her interpretation. There also lacks that certain dramatic tension between the two that’s quintessential to this sort of cat and mouse situation and could serve to be teased out even further.
Overall, this was a visually impressive show that definitely deserves recognition based on its high technical calibre. A clever adaptation that brings one of history’s most infamous stageplays into the digital era, with a bit more development on the acting side, #Faustus has the potential to be something exciting.
by Kit Marlowe
Presented by Plan B Productions
Venue 1: Arts Court Theatre