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Review: Dr Faustus

Hello again. Long time no review:) Night one Doctor Faustus has just occurred and hell is yet again upon us! Dylan Swain has made his directorial debut in St Andrews with the classic Marlowe text; half Latin, half Middle English - it’s a bold production to cut your teeth on. The play takes us through the downfall of our titular character, a young Faustus concludes that magic is the best use for his great intellect, and makes a deal with the demonic Mephistophilis that for 24 years of necromancy he will give Lucifer his soul. We are then transported across time and space, through meeting all seven deadly sins and hitting on Helen of Troy, with the occasional thought of ‘maybe this isn’t the best course of action’ being stomped out entirely by a following thought of ‘what if I trolled the Pope,’ it’s a play that is as silly as it is contemplative.


Lexie Dykes is our dramatic lead and she is perfectly cast, and not just because of the witchy precision with which she can draw a perfect circle around herself. She takes the long and complicated monologues of the good doctor in her stride, delivering them with a naturalistic ease. Paired up with the cheeky Calum Wardman-Browne’s Mephistophilis, who has a great little devilish charm to him - the two bounce off each other in a compelling way which successfully propels the show through all of the increasingly absurd circumstance, set, and questionable life decisions we see Faustus embark on.


The Seven Deadly Sins Ensemble (Lila Patterson, Ellen Rowlett, Fiona Locke, Felix Da Silva Clamp, Amelia Stokeld, Daisy Lillington-Patterson, and Matthew McCaffrey) was very fun. Donning creepy little white masks and clambering across the stage in their various gaits, their dedication to creating artistic imagery with nothing other than their bodies was particularly striking. They also worked well as doubles for the various other fringe roles, such as McCaffrey’s swearing clown and Da Silva Clamp’s knight, each showcasing an acting range from stylised to naturalistic to character performances. Additionally, Laura Bennie’s turn as Lucifer was nothing if not stylish - from leading a choir of cursing Popettes (I am sorry to the Catholics - I don’t know these terms), to sauntering about with the knowing self-importance of Satan looking down upon one of his impeding damned souls.


At this point, I would also like to compliment the costuming. Each character was conveyed very well as either a blank slate of spookiness that made up the chorus, or the visually intriguing roles of the angels and demons. Mephistophilis and Lucifer looked very cunt in their head to toe russian red, the corseting of the Bad Angel (Catriona Kadirkamanathan) was a very period piece, and Margot Pue’s Good Angel has perhaps the best outfit imaginable. She’s also wearing four inch heels for the entire show, so shout out to her.


Now, I am an English student, however I don't have the best grasp on Middle English, and so during intermission I made a joke to my friend that I couldn’t tell when they switched languages, to which I got the most St Andrews response possible: “It’s a lot easier when you speak Latin.” So true, Emily, but I’ll have to take your word for it!


But the final and best moment is the rising of the back curtain to reveal that the cool ominous music you had been hearing throughout the show WAS A LIVE FUCKING CHOIR! And these divas are being pounded by the smoke machine, they are drenched in an aptly hellish red light, and they are singing through rain, shine, and the unfortunate mislanding of the curtain descending. It’s a great use of the space, so cool to see the layering and unlayering of curtains, the shifting of what is and isn't the performance space stretching from the very front row of the audience all the way back to the brick wall separating the street from the theatre. It felt deconstructional in a way that made me kind of yearn for the entire show to have been as bare bones - like the Paul Mescal Streetcar Named Desire or the Gillian Anderson All About Eve - however its use as a portal to hell was an amazing staging decision, so simply brilliant it just makes me wish more Byre shows would do similar things. It also did make me think about the videos of Jessica Chastain doing a slightly more extreme version of this for her run of A Doll’s House where she walks out onto pavement through the stage’s back door at the end of the show. It's an interesting visual for the audience but also kinda funny as a passerby, so here’s a link: https://vm.tiktok.com/ZGeAUWgf3/


Overall the show was very bold in its approach, taking an unashamedly absperspective to what could have been a very high and dry show. It is a very strong debut for a director, who I can only hope will go on to do more.


By Kilda

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