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Doctor Faustus, The Imaginarium
Published on Sunday, 20 May 2012

2 stars

The Happy Cell
10-13, 18-20, 23-27 May, 7:30pm-10:30pm
Reviewed by Jonathon Manning

 Suitable for age 15+ only.
 World Premiere.

Christopher Marlowe’s “Dr Faustus” is the classic tale of a scholar who sells his soul to the Devil.  In a return for Faustus’ soul Lucifer grants the theologian a servant, the spirit Mephistopheles, to do his bidding for “four and twenty years.”  Tanglehead Productions experiments with a number of techniques in an attempt to engage their audience and capture Faustus’ inner turmoil.

To give the play added depth the production uses a live band for musical accompaniment, and their strikingly eerie chords fit the tone brilliantly.  Also worth noting is the use of the set, which discards the traditional stage and arranges the seating against two walls of the theatre.  This allowed Jason Kennedy, as Dr Faustus, to interact with the audience during his monologues, but due to the length of the room it more often than not meant that the audience’s view of the performance was obscured.

The play itself was split into two halves – the first taking place upstairs and showing the doctor making his pact with the devils, the second following Faustus as an older man as he travelled the world and performed his magic.  To represent the change in Faustus’ age, two actors take on the lead role.  Kennedy takes the stage in the first half, but does little to express the protagonist’s stubborn and prideful nature.  Instead he focuses on Faustus’ turmoil, which unfortunately brings little likeability to the role.  Mike Rawlings, on the other hand, plays the part of the older Faustus well, bringing a cockiness to the role that his younger counterpart lacked and which added a depth to the character from his entrance on stage.

The choice between good and evil is reflected through the use of a Good and Bad Angel (Ellen Capron and Honour Mission respectively).  Capron appears early in the play portraying her Good Angel in an unnerving childlike manner, before breaking into a rendition of Que Sera, Sera.  Director Rikki Tarascas’ choice in including this one-off song is questionable, as it shared little relevance to the piece and failed to match its tone.  Capron and Mission should, however, be given credit for their additional roles as Ralph and Robin in the second half.  These two bumbling characters added much-needed humour to the play through their mixture of clowning physical comedy and a good smattering of dirty jokes.

Gordon Winter also performs well as Mephistopheles; his portrayal of the demon as a lawyer was well-executed and often funny. His ability to command the stage area and calmly control the dialogue was well fitted to the role of an intelligent and powerful creature. 

The only downside to Winter’s acting came when he was made to crawl along the floor snarling like a beast, or pretend to be a horse conjured for Faustus’ amusement.  Moments like these plagued the evening, as several characters were transformed into animals, which did not create any humour and bordered on the ridiculous.  It could be argued, from the title of the play, that the audience should use their imagination to aid these scenes, but unfortunately the audience’s imagination is often patronized.  One such instance is when the Old Man tells Faustus he alone can see an angel, and Capron appears on stage flapping her arms to add credence to his statement.

Overall, “Dr Faustus – The Imaginarium” feels disjointed in its storytelling, and sadly repetitive.  Its cast of characters is uninteresting and tends to involve accents, often badly stereotyped, without need or purpose.  There are some good moments of humour, but regrettably, they are often so awkwardly placed that the jokes fall upon deaf ears.  The performance has moments that will entertain you, and its stronger parts show plenty of potential to develop – but as it stands, more often than not it’s disappointing.

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These are archived reviews of shows from Brighton 2012.  We keep our archives online as a courtesy to performers, and for readers who'd like to research previous years' reviews.