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Saturday, 11 September 2010

Theatre - Doctor Faustus - Royal Exchange

Star rating – 9/10

Hell has come to the heavenly city of Manchester – or at least it has in the shape of the latest thrilling and unsettling offering from the Royal Exchange. This stunning production of Christopher Marlowe’s ‘Doctor Faustus’ features Patrick O’Kane in the title role giving a massively impressive performance which is exhausting to watch so heaven (or should that be hell?) knows what it feels like to perform.

This is the cautionary sixteenth century tale of a German scholar who is not satisfied with his usual scholarly pursuits of a more traditional kind, and instead thirsts for knowledge of the magical kind. To do this he summons up Mephastophilis, who is a devil in the guise of Ian Redford’s respectable dog collared vicar. But in order to get the darker knowledge he so desperately seeks, Faustus has to make a pact with the devil, never a good idea you might think. He exchanges his soul for the services of Mephastophilis for 24 years, despite the latter’s warnings of the serious nature of the consequences of the bargain. But Faustus is determined, and so Mephastophilis informs his master, Lucifer, of the deal, and Faustus’ fate is sealed.

I was hoping for some spectacular staging and special effects from this production, and was absolutely not disappointed. I won’t give away what the y are so as not to lessen their effect, but you are guaranteed to be surprised and shocked. This is the most spectacular play I have seen at the Royal Exchange since the wonderful ‘Nineteen Eighty Four’ earlier in the year, with the director Toby Frow and set designer Ben Stones making optimum use of the beautiful theatre space. The cast is seemingly never ending in number, as the ensemble in turn play the creatures from hell, as well as beautiful bright young party goers. The play is a long one at just under three hours, but the action and horrors as they unfold are so engrossing that it doesn’t feel like that at all.

This language and form of the play feels very Shakespearean, Marlowe actually being a forerunner of the bard. It is a play of some complex and deep concepts, but this production makes it easy to follow. The more serious action is interspersed with comic interludes by a couple of clowns played wonderfully by Rory Murphy and Dyfrig Morris. The ending of the play is not surprising, as Faustus must face up to the terrible consequences of his pact. And you are almost relieved for Patrick O’Kane when the end comes. This is a wonderful and stunning play, with an impressive cast, a marvelous set and a fantastic central performance.

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