Cai Jauncey’s directorial vision is – appropriately enough, given the subject of the play – very ambitious. Replete with impressive lighting, a technically adept group of dancers and a soundtrack that would perhaps be best characterised as techno, this is a Faustus that is striking and original. At its best, when these features come together and complement one another– notably in the Helen of Troy scene – the production soars. At other times, however, it faltered. Often the music and dancing were too discordant, and the music failed to set the right mood, as in the parade of the Seven Deadly Sins, when the words of the play were somewhat drowned out by music. The cutting of certain scenes also rendered Faustus’s changes in tone especially abrupt, adding to the sense of disjointedness. For instance, at one point, Faustus suddenly launched forward to deliver a soliloquy in which he voiced doubts about his demonic pact only moments after he had been seen talking amicably with Mephistopheles upstage. The inclusion of the prologue and epilogue unfortunately meant the play began and ended on a dull note in what was an otherwise high-energy Faustus.
There was nonetheless much to be commended in this production. The dynamic between Georgie Murphy’s spirited, over-reaching Faustus and Thea Keller’s engaging and unusually sympathetic Mephistopheles was particularly strong. Keller’s Mephistopheles watched Faustus waste away his talents with, for the most part, carefully adopted poses of casual detachment, which made his passionate outbursts, such as when he lamented being “depriv’d of everlasting bliss,” all the more moving. At the action’s climax, after Murphy had brilliantly ramped up the tension in her final monologue before being dragged away to hell, it was Keller, looking on with a mixture of pity and terror, who arrested my attention. I would, however, have liked to see the sexual tension between the two leads, often hinted at, further explored.
Beyond the central pairing, there were impressive performances from Anusia Battersby and Laura O’Driscoll, as the Good and Evil angels respectively. The decision to situate them to the same platform worked well, as it enabled them to interact with one another more than is usually the case. Battersby offered a very interesting take on the Good Angel; she was increasingly frustrated and angry with Faustus, and took immense pleasure in gloating when Mephistopheles movingly described his torment. Matt Roberts, meanwhile, combined perfect comic timing with impressive physicality, as he extracted every ounce of humour from the text, starring in scenes from the comic subplot that are often cut.
The production also made an interesting use of technology, as Faustus cast away his books in favour of phones and tablets when his demonic experiments began. Mephistopheles revealing the vast array of information contained in one ‘book’ (i.e. tablet) highlighted the wonders of the internet age, when information is more readily accessible than ever, as well as the attendant possibilities and, arguably, dangers. The use of props such as horns and fake limbs deliberately drew attention to the theatricality of the play in a clever and amusing way. Whilst this production may have overreached itself at times, it had many brilliant moments, offering new and insightful interpretations of the text – and a fascinating Mephistopheles in particular – and is certainly worth a watch.