Review: Doctor Faustus

Doctor Faustus
Doctor Faustus
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West Yorkshire Playhouse

Imagine, if you will, that a production at the Playhouse involved a denouement in which the whole roof of the building came off, but then nothing was flown in or out of the chasm left behind.

That is, essentially, the whole feeling of Doctor Faustus – a sense of great spectacle that ultimately fails to grasp the advantages it creates for itself. It makes for a somewhat dissatisfying production that looks great but has the feeling of lack of substance behind the style. But what a lot of style.

The aesthetic on stage is impressive, but the problem here is that you feel the logic of the aesthetic hasn’t been thoroughly investigated.

The actors sit at the side of the stage, onlookers, but it’s never clear why. An on stage “floating” door is sometimes used, sometimes not and sometimes disappears altogether. Even in the chaos of Faustus’s world, we need to understand the reason behind the chaos. Without logic there is little to grasp hold of. Why do the cast dance along to an Elvis Presley song for such a long time? If it’s just because it looks good – that’s not necessarily reason to do it.

Taking Marlowe’s tale of a man who makes a deal with the devil’s right hand man – or here, woman, Mephistopheles played by Siobhan Redmond – playwright Colin Teevan has crafted what is, eventually, a witty piece of work. It begins laboriously, only really coming fully alive when Teevan’s middle act springs to life in a lovely coup de theatre that flips the stage so we are behind the scenes – or in the netherworld.

The chaos on stage is reminiscent of a Kneehigh show, or perhaps Sheffield’s Forced Entertainment, but where you feel those companies begin with the heart, this appears to have been crafted mainly from the head.

There is much in the play that is incongruous, from the naturalistic style of the brilliant Leah Brotherhead as Wagner, clashing with the almost commedia dell’arte style of those around her.

Siobhan Redmond has great presence, but her strange, elusive accent is a distraction. Kevin Trainor’s Faustus goes on a great journey through the play, but if only we were engaged a little more to go on the journey with him.

What recommends this play is that, it is the first real stamp of what we can expect from James Brining and that is certainly going to be bold work. That’s to be applauded.

To March 16.