Dr Faustus

Written by Christopher Marlowe, Directed by Philip Wilson
Liverpool Playhouse 4th - 26th February 2005

Reviewed by Kenn Taylor

The story of selling your soul to the devil in exchange for power, knowledge and fame is an ancient and powerful one. Harking back to Adam and Eve, the legend has been retold in many different ways - from the song Crossroad Blues to the Mickey Rourke movie Angel Heart. The Playhouse’s latest in-house production tells perhaps the most famous of these tales, that of Marlowe’s Dr Faustus.

The Faustus of the title is a stuffy university professor who has spent years tucked away writing in his library to little acclaim, until he stumbles across what he believes is a way to make spirits do his bidding and give him the power that he craves. An agent of the devil appears and offers to be his slave, but only in exchange for his soul. Faustus begins to learn what a high price that is to pay.

The first fifteen minutes or so of the play may be a little difficult to follow for anyone not acquainted with the mysteries of old English, but for a play so old it still has great resonance and the dramatic staging with convincing special effects helps draw the audience into such an outlandish tale. Despite the brooding atmosphere of doom, director Phillip Wilson manages to bring out the humour inherent in the play, particularly in the scene with the seven deadly sins.

The gothic style of the Playhouse makes it an ideal venue for such a production. Costume design is also excellent, a mixture of new and old styles with Mephistopheles in his velvet suit and the good and bad sides of Faustus’ conscience as dramatic devils and angels.

There are good performances all round with a cast of seven managing to play around thirty-five characters. Michael Brown manages to play his female roles convincingly and Nicholas Tennant puts in a great turn as the stuffy, pompous Professor Faustus who is unable to realise the magnitude of what he has done til it is too late.

This new production manages to show this respected old play in an accessible and exciting way, while staying true to Marlowe’s vision. At times it’s a struggle to keep the thread but this tale of man’s corruptibility will stay with you long after you leave the theatre.