Royal Scots Club
Review by Thom Dibdin
All of heaven and hell is present in Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus. In the first dramatisation of the great legend of Faust, we find a man so beholden to his ambition that he sells his soul to the Devil, trading the unknown but supposedly infinite delights in heaven for a known and finite earthly delight.
David Grimes’s ambitious production for the Grads nails its colours to the mast even as his audience are taking their seats. Here is Jonathan Keddie’s Faustus pacing his study, going from one forbidden text to the next.
So far, so obvious. But the lecterns holding the five books are members of the cast, posed statuesque and naked but for their black underwear. Here, the base delights of of the flesh and the flying excesses of the mind are unified in one warped character and scene-setting tableau.
Throughout the production, director David Grimes and AD Ross Hope strive for an immersive and visual experience. Rhiannon King’s Good Angel and Natasha Stiven’s Bad Angel speak into Faustus’ ear from high up behind the audience. Ian Aldred’s God steps enters down the main aisle, through the audience, holding a cinema box of popcorn as he berates Faustus for his abandonment of the Christian faith.
But throughout the production all this great vision is sadly undone by a vocal delivery from Keddie that defies the ear to understand it. He rattles off the script with such pace and lack of inflection that you can hardly make out what he is saying. The actual meaning of what he says is even further beyond reach.
Which is a fatal flaw in such a wordy script. The vaulting ambition of the staging is further undone by hesitations and overlong pauses between scenes. The soundtrack has been chosen with care, but the sound design lacks similar detail. There needs to be volume where there isn’t.
The entrance of Wendy Mathison’s Mephistopheles should be the moment of great triumph, an orgiastic crescendo, a combination of heavy rock and flagrant perversity, as she is carried on the backs of her near naked minion devils, formed up to create the parts of a great fleshly living chair that crawls its way across the stage to deliver her into Faust’s presence.
What a fantastic vision! But instead of a triumphal blast, the track simpers out of the speakers as if it was apologising for her presence.
There are strong individual physical performances from all around the ensemble. Devils who twist in torment, friends and acquaintances who are undone by Faustus’ actions. And, for the main part, the rest of the cast deliver their lines with understanding and clarity.
This is a production with much ambition and many nice touches. It still has the potential to reach greater things – although not all of the ideas work in this space – but it will not do so until Keddie slows down and takes care with his delivery.
Daily Mon 6 – Sat 11 Aug