Stratford-upon-Avon, RSC, Swan Theatre, 4th February – 4th August 2016
Faustus and man’s eternal temptation to sell his soul. Marlowe and Goethe take their title character from the same source, but Marlowe’s Faustus is, like Marlowe himself, an enfant terrible, a hectic, restless, indomitable and intellectually insatiable genius.
In this production, directed by Maria Aberg, one aspect is clear from the very beginning: Mephistopheles and Faustus are one, evil does not lurk outside or in other people. It is the result of human free choice and ponderation of interests – be it for the sake of knowledge or be it to satisfy the traditional addictive habits that Marlowe presents in their categorisation as seven deadly sins, a term used since the times of early Christianity: pride, covetousness, envy, wrath, lechery, gluttony and sloth.
Oliver Ryan and Sandy Grierson appear on stage, dressed alike, and they each light a match. He, whose flame goes out first, plays Faustus.
His past life is standing around him as books in boxes, unsettled, and he is cursing the limitations of available knowledge. Magic, and therefore in the logic the late 16th century, hell, is supposed to satisfy his need for insight and repute.
The end is predetermined.
Director Maria Aberg draws Faustus’s inner odyssey like a Dance of Death, a downward spiral, with breathtaking dynamics of expression and movement.
The inner and outer world of the lost character, wandering about on the edge, appear in a series of grotesque and fascinating figures that seem to have sprung from intoxicated nightmares: Satan, the Seven Deadly Sins, Faustus’s ghost army that sometimes takes zombie-like features, the faceless Imperial Guard and others create, in conjunction with Orlando Gough’s space setting music, stirring eddies of pictures.
An incredible climax is reached at Faustus’s encounter with the woman of his dreams, Helen of Troy, “the face that launched a thousand ships”.
“Give me my soul again,” he pleads with her and their dance, their unlived lives, Helen’s (Jade Croot) and Faustus’s (Sandy Grierson or Oliver Ryan) attempt to connect, is one of those theatre moments with a heartbeat of their own, in which the world comes to a standstill.
A production that is disquieting. And that’s a good thing.
A deep bow to this ensemble, the director, the music and especially Ayse Tashkiran’s choreography and movement.
Design: Naomi Dawson
Lighting: Lee Curran
Sound: Tom Gibbons
Photos: Helen Maybanks ©