Extra Theatre: Doctor Faustus

Photo by Keith Pattison
Photo by Keith Pattison

GARISH, gaudy, frenetic and bawdy – just some of the words to describe the Doctor Faustus production romping its way through the Gorbals just now.

The Citizens Theatre show – in association with the West Yorkshire Playhouse – has been attracting attention since it opened down south.

Dr Faustus at the Citisens Theatre'Siobhan Redmond as Mephistopheles

Dr Faustus at the Citisens Theatre'Siobhan Redmond as Mephistopheles

That may be because of its modern day update, or because it casts Siobhan Redmond as a female Mephistopheles, and undoubtedly because the Faustian myth remains as alluring as ever – who doesn’t want to see a man sell his soul to the devil?

The adaptation is true to Marlowe’s text at the beginning and end, with a rewrite of the middle by Colin Teevan which launches into modern day speech and digs at contemporary devils (bankers, media moguls, ageing rock stars...not to mention a less than pious pope).

As for our anti-hero, he’s (to put it nicely), a geek – a sad little figure studying in a grubby bedroom, all the while dreaming of mystical spells and power beyond his reach.

We as the audience can’t help but egg him on, in the hope of seeing more of those devilish illusions (which, is has to be said, are pretty impressive) and in the hope of seeing how depraved the situation will get (clue: pretty low).

There are no curtains in this production – no off-stage and no artifice when actors move between characters. They’re ever-present on the sidelines – in part, an extended audience, but at times menacing devils, waiting in the wings to drag Faustus off to hell.

Faustus’s good and bad angels (the angel and demon on his shoulders, if you like) are perfectly realised – good is a kindly old woman in her Sunday best who can’t hope to compete with the other side; a swaggering, sniggering, boozing buddy nudging the protagonist along on his downfall.

Gary Lilburn’s limited appearances as Lucifer are entertaining, and Kevin Trainor is suitably annoying-yet-endearing as the loner in search of fame of fortune.

But all eyes are firmly on our female Mephistopheles – the habit-clad tortured soul who reminds Faustus that she is always in hell, but also a temptress; a corseted, flame-haired harlot sashaying around the stage more than the devil himself.

There are problems with the Citz’s Doctor Faustus. There’s too much going on at time – it is ambitious to add dancing minstrels in sparkly top hats, but it doesn’t always work.

Still, it’s an entertaining, blasphemous romp through Elizabethan drama and into modern day illusion – just be sure to brief granny before you take her along.

Doctor Faustus runs at the Citizens Theatre until April 27. Tickets are £8-£19, available from the Citz website.