THEATRE Doctor Faustus in theatre reviews at Chichester. REVIEWS

Doctor Faustus

Minerva Theatre

Hell and Damnation

The final production of the 2004 Chichester Festival season is Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe. It is performed by a large cast drawn from the local community, the Youth Theatre, and the professional ensemble acting in this year's Festival. It is directed by no less than four directors; Martin Duncan & Steven Pimlott (Artistic Directors), Dale Rooks (Youth) and Edward Kemp for the Professionals. Local artists worked with the Designer, Jane Heather, and community volunteers helped make over two hundred costumes and props. Finally, the partnership of Chichester Cathedral, who allowed their grounds and the Cathedral itself to be used, and others en route to it, is paramount to the production being staged for twelve performances.

The play is about a man, Doctor Faustus. The story starts by us seeing him searching for new and exciting knowledge. He scans through books about philosophy, medicine, law, religion, but dismisses each in turn. I trust it wasn't a real Bible that was kicked across the stage in disgust. The interests of reality can be taken too far. Then a further book is presented to him about black magic. In this book he becomes so fascinated and absorbed in the signs and symbols he finds that he draws one on the floor and then lies on it as he utters a sensuous incantation. He is amazed and delighted when a red serpent appears. This leads on to a meeting with Mephistopheles, dressed as a priest, who guarantees him his every wish if he sells his soul to his master, the Devil. Faustus agrees to this and signs a covenant written with his own blood. Throughout, a Good Angel and an Evil Angel give Faustus advice; the former encouraging him to remain in this world, the latter supporting him in his path towards eternal damnation.

The story having been established the audience is invited to follow Faustus and Mephistopheles on their journey to meet Lucifer. We are skilfully ushered out of the theatre into the dark night pausing for a little scene at the gates to the theatre car park. From there we continue our walk passing grotesque black clad devils sitting in and on cars with lights flashing and balloons waving in the wind. Eerie music accompanies us as we make our way to North Street, Chichester. We watch and listen as Faustus journeys on and fulfils, with the help of Mephistopheles, the desires and wishes of all those whom he meets on the way.

Then we are entertained by the seven deadly sins; Wrath, Gluttony, Pride, Covetousness, Sloth, Envy, Lechery. Each sin is enacted by a group, and as we move up North Street we stop and watch each little scenario. For example, Pride is depicted by a pompous Pope and his Cardinals celebrating mass with monks and nuns. Their service is thoroughly disrupted by Faustus and Mephistopheles who are made invisible to the clergy at Faustus' request.

North Street is alive with devils accompanying us. The last sin, Lechery, is acted out at the city's crossroads in the old cross monument. Then, along East Street, a procession approaches heralding the arrival of the Emperor and Empress in an amazing silver carriage drawn by men with silver headgear representing horses. The Emperor and Empress, also dressed from head to foot in wonderful silver costumes, alight at the nearby Cathedral in West Street. We follow them into the grounds of the Cathedral and watch as Faustus grants their wish; the raising from the dead of Alexander the Great who then fights a duel with Darius.

We now proceed to the cloisters for the interval and are entertained, with dancing, the Emperor's banquet, and Mummers play.

Finally, we move into the Cathedral to watch the climax. Faustus's life is almost at its prescribed end and the dreadful enormity of what he has done haunts him. However, as much as he wishes, he cannot turn back the clock. This is not to be and he is condemned to eternal damnation.

This is an inventive, creative and entertaining production. There is an amazing amount going on. It is non-stop along North Street. Everyone puts one hundred per cent into their performance. The costumes are magnificent and the sound effects create additional atmosphere.

Sam West as Doctor Faustus is on stage all evening and gives an excellent performance. This is complimented by the outstanding Michael Feast as Mephistopheles. The play is in rhyme and the difficult Cathedral acoustics make it hard to hear the thrust of Faustus' agony at the end, but the dramatic acting conveys the anguish and the outcome of his actions.

The Theatre is to be congratulated on the smooth running of such a massive and successful production. Let's hope the rain keeps off for the remaining performances. © JMB

“Doctor Faustus” is in repertoire at Chichester from the 8th until the 25th of September, 2004.

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