Written by the renowned Elizabethan English playwright Christopher Marlowe and first performed most probably in 1594, The Tragedy of the Death and Life of Doctor Faustus was shown at the Union on April 7th and 8th in a well-choreographed promenade performance. Turnout was impressive for what proved to be a highly entertaining evening, delivering on the combination of both comedy and tragedy that Marlowe originally intended for the play, excellently. The intervals of laughter alongside solemn spectating was very much compliant with what Marlowe intended and proved for an enjoyable night.
In the play Dr Faustus (Noah Liebmiller) a well-respected German scholar gets fed up with life as an academic and decides to practice magic. He meets with a devil named Mephastophilis (Jared Liebmiller), whom Faustus tells to return to his master Lucifer (Jack Briggs) with an offer of his soul in exchange for 24 years of service. Armed with these new powers Faustus begins to travel the world enjoying use of his newly found powers in eccentric and often hilarious ways. The use of video footage to show Faustus travelling around the globe could certainly have detracted from the performance, but instead it was well introduced with the image of Faustus in New York adding a particularly comical 21st century edge to Marlowe’s 16th century masterpiece. The scenes of the Papal Court and Faustus’ meeting with the Emperor Charles V (Alice Gold) were particular highlights of what was a thrilling production. As the 24 years of Faustus’ deal with Lucifer come to a close he begins to dread his impending damnation. In order to impress some academics he has Mephastophilis call up Helen of Troy (Hannah Ritchie), however when they find out the pact he has made they are horrified. On his final night Faustus begs for mercy but all is too late. At midnight a host of devils appear and he is carried off to hell.
In all the lighting was well chosen although perhaps the actions areas before each scene could have been lit up faster in order to move the audience more calmly to the next scene and avoid any people rushing. Nevertheless the concept of the Promenade worked well, particularly in portraying Faustus’s travels and the intermingling of actors and the audience was well performed and did not take anything away from the play. The costume and character changes were swiftly undertaken and the cast did an excellent job of playing multiple parts.
Whilst the use of a Biro on Faustus’ death was perhaps not in keeping with the historical nature of the play, the scene setting in general and the costume design was outstanding throughout the production and certainly lifted the performance significantly with credit due to Roland Crompton and Felicity Guite. In particular I have to highlight the devil masks which were superbly designed, adding greatly to the atmosphere of the play.
Stand-out performances have to be attributed to Jack Briggs’ performance of Lucifer which captured the inherent evilness, yet cunning nature of his character and indeed to Noah Liebmiller who put in a highly energetic performance of Faustus himself, in what was unquestionably the most demanding, yet also most important part in the play.
Overall the production of Dr Faustus was a well-put together performance to which all the crew and cast deserve full credit. Marlowe himself would have certainly been satisfied at the injection of humour alongside the seriousness of Faustus’ fall and eventual damnation in what was certainly a delightful and of course pensive evening.