This modern take on Dr. Faustus directed by Rikki Tarascas and produced by Laurie Cannon invites the audience into the mind of a crazed doctor obsessed with magic and the occult. The young Dr. Faustus Jason Kennedy is unsatisfied with the limitations of human knowledge and begins to dabble in the dark arts.
When he finds himself at a crossroads, confronted by the Bad Angel Honour Mission and the Good Angel Ellen Capron, Dr. Faustus chooses to sell his soul to the devil Rowan Reid in exchange for 24 years of unimaginable power, and a servant named Mephistopheles Gordon Winter who will faithfully serve his every whim.
The company is seventeen members strong, with some members playing up to four roles. All are experienced and accomplished actors, evident in their range and emotional intensity, and every actor is extremely committed to their characters making the overall performance believable and engrossing.
The most memorable actors are Kennedy as the young Dr. Faustus, Mike Rawlings as the older Dr. Faustus, with Capron and Mission as the two angels, but the actor who steals the show is Winter in the role of Mephistopheles. He is so true in his conviction that you forget he is acting and get totally caught up in the scenes in which he is present.
I found the Olde English difficult to understand at first, but once the actors hit their stride, they bring this classic style of speech to life and honour the traditions of the original work written by Christopher Marlowe. Tarascas’s direction makes this piece more modern with alterations to the middle of the play which include comedic scenes from the Hot Whore Wife from Hell, played by an oversized Trevor Scales in drag and Envy, played by Amanda Urwin-Mann, representing one of the seven deadly sins through her portrayal of a TOWIE girl.
The comic relief segments are necessary to break up an otherwise deeply dark and religious tale, but in my opinion, some of them run a little bit too long making the overall length of the production four hours (with an interval) but Dr. Faustus is like watching several plays within one play, so it is a worthwhile and rewarding experience on many levels.
My only negative criticism is of the venue and not the actors. Happy Cell is a multi-tiered yoga studio and the performance takes place in a long hall with the audience seated on folding chairs along the walls. While this makes the show more modern and gives the actors the opportunity to interact more with the audience, it is difficult to see the action at both ends of the hall and impossible to see any action that takes place on the floor if you are in the back row. After the interval, the second act takes place in the depths of hell, which is located in the venue’s basement. It is nice to change the performance area and the lines of sight are much better down below.
Dr. Faustus is a powerful and memorable production because of the strength of the large cast and their ability to deliver an impressive show of dark, histrionic, classical theatre and light-hearted comic relief.