Doctor Faustus is Off Topic Theatre’s debut production. They are a new North West-based theatre company who want to create opportunities for young creatives to make and produce their own work. Their first show is their own twist on Christopher Marlowe’s classic tale of temptation, edited by Isaac Holden.
The play was performed in modern clothing with Halloween-like heavy black eye makeup, which aided the pronunciation of the demons and devils within the performance. The set was simple, making good use of lighting to emphasise emotion and inspire fear.
Doctor Faustus (Clayton Travis) soliloquises on the philosophical ideas of medicine, mortality and morality before deciding to renounce religion and offer his soul to the Devil in exchange for 24 years of happiness and anything his heart desires.
A Good Angel (Sebastian Romaniuk, also directing) tries to dissuade him from his course of action while an Evil Angel (Neve Kelman) encourages him down his chosen path. The tension between these two actors was tangible. The emotion on Romaniuk’s face is raw, the childlike giggling of Kelman darkly charming, creating an atmosphere of dread as Faustus leans more towards the Evil Angel’s tempting course.
Faustus embarks on his demonic journey and summons Mephistopheles (Tom Scott); a softly spoken demon in a smart suit. His gentle coaxing manner and disdain for the weak whining Doctor Faustus is terrifying in its simplicity, his lamentations of lost souls and Hell being an inescapable state of mind.
Faustus does experience some regret over his actions and Mephistopheles brings Lucifer to him (Natasha Hale). Hale’s performance is overtly sexualised, revelling in the delight of sin, and dragging Faustus further into the irresistible web he’s caught in. Romaniuk gives an outstanding performance of the seven deadly sins, both hysterically funny and hideously tragic. Faustus watches in terror and amazement as Romaniuk switches to representations of each act, while failing to see the reflections of his own life and destiny.
The comical interludes featuring Wagner (Jack McAdam), Rafe (Natasha Hale) and Robin (Lorna Elvin) exploring class and dark magic, and the farcical Pope’s feast, were well performed and a good distraction from the darker elements of the play. While Rafe enjoys showing off his cunning and conjuring until being horrified by what he is done, Faustus revels in creating havoc for the Pope and his companions.
Will he realise the price he has paid for 24 years of hedonism before it is too late, or has the oath written in his own blood already sealed his fate?
The cast is completed with Faustus’ fellow scholars (Isaac Holden and Alfie Boynton), with many of the actors doubling-up in supporting roles, making full use of this small company’s talents.
The play was the perfect combination of comedy and tragedy, pain and pleasure and fear and fun. The script has been edited to a shorter version of the original story, and the pace feels much faster in places than usual, but the story is well told for a modern audience who would have no fears of actual demons turning up on stage as in Marlowe’s time.