Hot on the heels of a sexually-charged production of Dr Faustus, starring Kit Harrington and Jenna Russell, at The Duke of York Theatre, Theatrical Niche in association with Arts Council England are touring a very novel treatment of Christopher Marlowe’s classic and we caught up with it just around the corner at The Arts Theatre.

RELATED: REVIEW OF KIT HARRINGTON’S DR FAUSTUS

The small space above The Arts is perfect for this intimate exploration of good and evil.

“Throughout the rehearsal process, and guided by various Grotoski exercises and ideals, we have asked the actors to dig deep and bring their experiences of sin, shame, and hope for redemption into the rehearsal room.  The movement sequences come directly from this incredibly open team.  We wanted to draw on the only experiences we can really know – our own.  And not necessarily as artists in particular, but as flawed human beings.

We were also highly interested in Grotowski’s ‘Audience Encounter’.  Most characters speak directly to the audience, and the staging is made more intimate every time our protagonists reel off the stage to talk to their viewers face-to-face.” Venetia Twigg (Director)

faustusThe choice to talk directly to the audience is a clever one, which draws the viewer in from the beginning.  It does not take long for the four actors to illustrate the means by which they will deconstruct Marlowe’s play; spontaneous thought, circus tricks, interpretive moves and gymnastics and verse.

In a homespun set, where the actors appear to have walked in off the street, this feels like a direct conversation with Faustus.  This is a playful but deadly game of dealing with the devil, and testing who is in control.  The most effective passages of the evening were when Mephistophilis, played menacingly by Matthew Springett, challenges Faustus, played very confidently by Charlotte Watson, for control.  Watson deftly illustrates her confusion, struggling as she does with her ideas of hell and her need to have control.  Springett, who emerges through the darkness in fluorescent colours sets the stakes high.  Their proximity to each other, and the audience, is confronting and arresting.

faustusBeyond the few references made to the circus setting, I could not really see it’s relevance, except for the suggestion of bold colours and the makeshift.  The unvarnished nature of the text, sprouting out of the actors mouths and expressing itself in every physical way, propelled the discourse.  No illusion, no setting required.

Alice Sillett, and Rayo Patel complete the small cast.  All four attacked the choreography (Sheri Sadd) with great confidence.  Calling on their many talents, at a moments notice, jumping from character to character, underscoring the text with sounds and ominous shadows, requiring great fitness and commitment.

The puppetry, designed by Maia Kirkman-Richards, seemed somehow childish when held up to the themes of the text. The lighting design by Sam Owen was simple and tight; cues were spot on, and they needed to be.

There were passages that jarred, like when Alice Sillett’s Empress stepped forward in grand, mannered gestures.  But perhaps it only serves to remind us of the playfulness attached to physical theatre, and this production in particular.  Marlowe’s original text, when used, did not jar.  It simply added weight.

Venetia Twigg and her team have endeavoured to illuminate Marlowe’s play and present it in an energetic and innovative way for contemporary, perhaps younger, audiences.  It is never a waste of time to investigate the themes of good and evil in theatrical ways.  These talented players should be congratulated for their energy and innovation.

THE TOUR
SEPTEMBER
Saturday 24th September at 7.30pm – Kentwell Hall, Sudbury Suffolk
Monday 26th September at 7.30pm – Whitty Theatre, Wokingham, Berkshire
Wednesday 28th September at 7.30pm – Headgate Theatre, Colchester, Essex
OCTOBER
Thursday 6th October at 7.30pm – The Place, Bedford, Beds
Friday 7th October at 7.30pm – Richard Whiteley Theatre, Giggleswick, Yorks
Monday 10th October at 7.30pm – Mumford Theatre, Cambridge, Cambs
Thursday 13th October at 7.30pm – Kingswood School, Bath
Friday 14th October at 8pm – Trinity Theatre, Tunbridge Wells, Kent
Monday 17th – 19th October at 7.30pm – Arts Theatre, London
Thursday 20th October at 7.30pm- Guildhall Arts Centre, Grantham, Lincs
Friday 28th October  at 7.30pm – Milton Rooms,  Malton, N Yorks
NOVEMBER
Friday 4th November at 8pm – Marlowe Studio Theatre, Canterbury, Kent
Thursday 10th November -at 7.30pm – Auden Theatre, Holt, Norfolk
Tuesday 15th November at 7.30pm – Forest Arts Centre, New Milton, Hampshire
Thursday 17th November at 7.30m – Stantonbury Theatre Milton Keynes, Beds

REVIEW OVERVIEW
Dr Faustus
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John Bowles
John Bowles, having started his career on Australian variety television at the age of ten, had notched up 300 hours of live national TV by the age of sixteen. As an adult he has gone on to star in many theatrical productions such as ‘Phantom of the Opera’ and ‘Cats’. He has produced, directed and written for television but admits his favourite role is as presenter, and he relishes the opportunity to talk to interesting show business people and tell their stories.