Two Christophers can currently be found at The Rose Bankside; Christopher Marlowe’s play about John Faustus, the doctor who desired to learn more than was morally allowable is currently being performed by Christopher Staines. This production brings Marlowe’s play back to the stage where it was originally performed in the year that marks his 450th birthday.
The Rose was the first playhouse to appear on Bankside in 1587 and is in dire need of funds to be raised for further conservation and redevelopment. Therefore the small stage that is currently used for performances would not be able to lend itself to the original cast of more than 30, so Martin Parr has reduced it to a one-man show that runs to about 75 minutes.
The footings of the original Rose, which are situated beyond the contemporary wooden stage and audience area, are preserved by a layer of water. This liquid is adorned with lighted candles, which can be viewed beyond the gauze hanging above the edge of the stage, thus giving the impression of a starlit sky behind.
Staines, who is both Prologue Chorus and protagonist, initially delivers the story of Dr Faustus from behind a desk piled with the man’s books. The former is apprehensive and reluctant in his revelation of what he must relate and becomes the latter as he demonstrates Faustus’s quest for the metaphysical knowledge far beyond his studies of medicine, philosophy and divinity. At first he wavers between the studies of necromancy and the Scriptures in a brief scene that dispenses with the Evil and Good Angels before he proceeds to conjure up Mephistopheles. This servant of Lucifer, who continues to convince him to Abjure the Scriptures and his Saviour Christ,is also voiced by Staines in an off-stage recording. The doctor now casts aside all doubt and embraces his Mephistophelian pact with relish, relinquishing his soul for 24 years to live in all voluptuousness.
There is a very interesting portrayal of the Seven Deadly Sins. Instead of 7 actors, each conveying one transgression, Staines inhabits them in turn, finally becoming Lechery and gradually reclining on the desk in a deliciously lascivious pose before dashing across to the far side of the original theatre as he depicts Faustus’s eight-day journey to the top of Mount Olympus on a dragon’s back, before travelling from Germany, through France and Italy to Rome. Here he encounters the Pope with his Friars and Cardinals as they celebrate the feast of Saint Peter. The ensuing satirical mocking of the Pontiff involves tearing pages from the bible, and creating paper dolls which are used as puppets with silly voices to represent the characters.
As his time approaches Faustus becomes a man who begins to understand the horror of his deeds and dreads the eternal torment to follow; his eyes convey terror as the invisible Devils appear to escort him to Hell. His voice fades to silence, leaving the Epilogue Chorus to warn against practising more than heavenly power permits.
The knife that has been taken to this play to reduce it to such a shortened version, without losing the basic story, drama and moral warnings, is similar to the blade that Faustus uses to cut his arm and use his own blood to seal the diabolical pact. Dr Faustusbecomes accessible and understandable, even to those who are not familiar with Elizabethan drama. Coupled with the proximity of Staines to the audience it is almost like sitting down and being told an engrossing story whilst digesting every detail and nuance, and then leaving, fully satisfied. If the ghost of Christopher Marlowe is stalking The Rose I am sure he would approve.
- By Christopher Marlowe
- Directed by Martin Parr
- The Rose Playhouse, London
- Until 28 February 2014
- Time: 19.30
- Review by Sandra Lawson
- 8 February 2014
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