Doctor Faustus, Globe Theatre, London
Tuesday 28 June 2011
Christopher Marlowe was a great blasphemer, but there's an attractive spiritual ambiguity at the heart of Doctor Faustus, a play that is as much a medieval morality as it is a study of a soul in torment.
Faustus sells his soul to Lucifer's agent, Mephistopheles, in order to live in all voluptuousness for 24 years. But it's an intellectual pact, too: Faustus says he wants to rule the world, but he's more interested in the planetary system, political justice for the Pope's enemies in Germany, and aesthetics.
That world is conjured in Matthew Dunster's fine, lucid production by a chorus of scholars who morph into book-wielding insects and white-masked dancing aristocrats; by fur-clad goats on stilts that secrete bestial headgear; and by a pair of bat-winged dragons that transport Faust and Mephistopheles across Europe to Rome.
In sticking to the earlier 1604 text, Dunster also gives full value to the low-life knockabout, a parallel adventure in which Faust's servant, Wagner (Felix Scott), becomes embroiled in a horse-trading adventure with a phlegmatic clown (Pearce Quigley), a bottle-nosed ostler (Richard Clews) and a crowd of Brueghelesque villagers.
The upper and lower worlds are bound in tricks of magic and transformation – flames in books, horns on heads and one amazing "false" beheading – and nowhere more so than in the parade of the seven deadly sins. Here, Covetousness is a shrieking jewellery queen, Gluttony so fat and farting he can't stand up, and Lust a spreading vamp who consumes them all.
And the uniform of sensuality is that of the devil, too: blacks and reds and the maroon skull caps that are worn by the leading pair. Paul Hilton is not as lyrically magnificent as you'd like, but he has a hard-bitten, restless heroic quality that keeps you hooked, and Arthur Darvill's Mephisto makes of evil the most natural thing in the word.
Helen, the face that launched a thousand ships, is first constructed as a Greek puppet, then humanised by Sarita Piotrowski. At the end, Faustus is trying to start again, the play renewed as a metaphor of mortality. It's the greatest last scene in our drama, and the bells of Southwark Cathedral join the roar of aeroplanes and the smoke-filled auditorium as hell's demons spew forth a tribe of burning, bloody new-born babes.
To 2 October (020 7401 9919)
MusicThe band accidentally called Londoners the C-word
Film 'I've never been comfortable on-screen', she says
Review: One Direction, Fourmusic
Review: The World of Ice and Firebooks
Film More romcom than S&M
Review: The Imitation Gamefilm
Comedy...to show her mastectomy scars
TVNetflix gets cryptic
TV review A moving film showing kids too busy to enjoy their youth
Books Not even a Man Booker prize could save Richard Flanagan from a nomination
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 'Not suppost to cry': 9-year-old lists the worst things about being a boy
- 2 Lee Evans announces his retirement from comedy on The Jonathan Ross Show
- 3 Iggy Azalea responds to Eminem rape lyrics: 'I'm bored of old men threatening young women'
- 4 These grandmas smoking weed for the first time are wonderful
- 5 Pastafarian former porn star Asia Lemmon allowed to wear colander in driving licence photo
Lee Evans announces his retirement from comedy on The Jonathan Ross Show
Better Call Saul: Breaking Bad spin-off gets release date, logo and ominous new trailer
Iggy Azalea responds to Eminem rape lyrics: 'I'm bored of old men threatening young women'
Angelina Jolie confirms retirement from acting: 'I've never been comfortable on-screen'
Lana Del Rey rape video: Marilyn Manson denies involvement in shocking leaked footage
Rochester by-election: Ukip gains second MP as Tory defector Mark Reckless holds seat
'Muslims pre-date Columbus in discovering America,' says Turkish president Erdogan
Rochester by-election: Labour MP Emily Thornberry resigns after posting white van and England flags tweet
France 'blocks' Russian sailors from boarding a warship
Former Tory PM Sir John Major says 'we would not have an NHS without migrants'
G20 summit: David Cameron warns Vladimir Putin that Russia's relationship with the West is at a 'fork in the road' over Ukraine