Theatre review: Dr Faustus, Globe, London South Bank

11:02 27 June 2011

Arthur Darvill as Mephistopheles and Paul Hilton in the title role of the Shakespeare

Arthur Darvill as Mephistopheles and Paul Hilton in the title role of the Shakespeare's Globe production of Doctor Faustus. Photo by Keith Pattison

Keith Pattison

Dr Faustus can be presented in a rather dry and serious way – not so this production that’s just opened at the Globe theatre on London’s South Bank.

Here Christopher Marlowe’s morality tale plays up the comic elements – including one character spraying another with fake (one hopes) urine - much to the enjoyment of the audience; a reward for those who spend two and a half hours standing on their feet while watching.

In 16th century Wittenberg, Germany, scholar Dr Faustus sells his soul to the devil in exchange for 24 years of luxury, with Lucifer’s servant Mephistopheles at his beck and call, offering him infinite knowledge.

Much publicity has been generated for the production by the casting of Arthur Darvill – best known as current Dr Who companion Rory in the BBC series – as Mephistopheles. Here he is almost unrecognisable from that role and seems to be weighed down with doom – one almost feels sorry for him because he appears to be the only actor on stage not having a ball.

Paul Hilton as Faustus is exemplary, at all times commanding our attention – the play is called Dr Faustus after all. He is at his most commanding when, towards the end, he is alone on the stage, all around him is still, the sky is darkening above the open-air theatre, every eye in the auditorium is on him, and he declares: “An hour to live…Faustus must be damned.”

Many of the support cast play multiple roles. Of particular note is Pearce Quigley as loveable old rogue Robin, who almost steals every scene he is in; and Robert Goodale as the Old Man, who uses his rich voice to try to warn Faustus away from his fate.

The production is at all times visually stunning and engaging with a number of great set pieces. These include the presentation of the seven deadly sins, the arrival of the Pope in Rome, Faustus’s apparent beheading, one character being turned into an ape and another into a dog, the realisation of a larger-than-life Helen of Troy and the finale with the whole cast on stage waving puppet heads on sticks after Faustus is flung through the gates of hell.

Dr Faustus is at the Globe until October 2. For tickets call 020 7401 9919 or 020 7087 7398 or visit www.shakespearesglobe.com

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