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Kevin Trainor On ...Doctor Faustus

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Later this month the West York Playhouse stages Christopher Marlowe’s classic tale of power, morality and religion, Dr Faustus. The collaboration with Glasgow’s Citizen Theatre brings the 400-year-old play firmly in to the 21st Century by placing the story in a distinctly modern celebrity obsessed world. The part of Faustus will be played by Kevin Trainor. In a break from rehearsals he spoke to us about myths, magic and (Debbie) McGee.

What does this very old play have to say to a contemporary audience?

It's the story of a working class man, who just happens to be a genius; just happens to become a Satanist; asks for 24 years of power, wealth, women, adulation; and then finds it isn't enough. It's the story of someone who's addicted to achievement, just because there's a kind of emptiness - a void - in the centre of his life. So he's got a grudge against God. The central relationship of his life is with this God that he doesn't believe in. No, a God that he's obsessed with, but that he feels hates him. This is the man at the university who has read all the books and he wants more; it's not enough; is that all there is? And so, Dominic Hill is not really doing this production because he sees it as a period piece, but because he thinks it really speaks to what's going on now. Our Faustus is at a university right now. He's a polymath; he starts off as the superstar of the divinity department, but he's also doing research for CERN (The European Organization for Nuclear Research), and all the rest of it. So Dominic's doing the play because it is speaking to him at the moment, rather than it being just a timely revival of a renaissance classic.

How do the new acts by Colin Teevan fit alongside Marlowe's original text?

Dominic and Colin have form, as it were, in colliding classics and new writings together. They're production of Peer Gynt blew a blast of fresh air through that text people thought they knew. So how does it work? Well, basically, people believe that Acts One, Two and Five of Dr Faustus were written by Christopher Marlowe. But there's a scholarly consensus that Acts Thee and Four, where he just goes around the world, doing magic tricks, stirring up trouble and being an egotist, are probably not by Marlowe anyway. So taking that as a springboard, Dominic and Colin have scooped out Acts Thee and Four and they've been re-written by Colin. Actually, they are very faithful to the spirit of the original; it's just that, instead of being mere story and incident, piled upon incident, it's been written in such a way as to show that gradual disillusionment that Faustus feels. He's got special powers, he couldn't be more famous, but he's still absolutely dying inside; so that comes to the fore more. Our Faustus is like a Derren Brown figure. He goes around the world, performing to presidents and Popes. He plays stadium tours. He's huge. So the contemporary parallels are really brought sharply into focus. I'm not saying Derren Brown sold his soul to the devil, although I wouldn't be surprised to hear it.

The play covers much of Faustus's life; how are you tackling his aging process?

Very odd things happen with time in this play. Of course, Faustus asks for 24 years of wine, women and fame, but it also has the feeling that it takes place within 24 hours. Colin has said that this is where morality play meets tragedy, so it is very odd. Does it all happen in his room? Once you conjure up the devil, notions of time and space do go out of the window. Dominic very much wanted to have a young Faustus, because Faustus is young at the start of the action. We reckon he's about 48 or 50 by the end of it and we really don't know how that's going to work yet. But because black magic is such a part of this, maybe he's physically un-aged; maybe towards the end he ages suddenly very quickly; maybe he ages gradually.

How does having a female Mephistopheles (Siobhan Redmond) affect the dynamic between the two central characters?

Oh my God - I think Marlowe would be really happy with it! The reason the director and writer have gone for this is to do with the idea of this Faustus with a hole in his soul; with the God grudge. The way he interacts with women in the play, of whom we only really encounter Helen of Troy, follows that sort of Madonna/whore concept. He either objectifies and pornifies women, or they're sort of remote and goddess-like. There's also a bit at the start of the Marlowe that says Faustus was brought up by relatives, so we figured that his parents died pretty early on. He was brought up in a very Calvinistic, God-fearing, joyless Wittenberg (where the whole reformation kicked off). So there's a kind of absence there - the absence of the mother - and at times, that tension is explored. And Siobhan, as well as being a really highly regarded classical actress, has an old-school Hollywood glamour that you can't just invent; that sort of wit and poise and exciting sex appeal, to be honest. So, her Mephistopheles rather rankles in the role of Debbie McGee to my Paul Daniels.

I hear there will be magic on stage; have you been dazzled by anything in the rehearsal room yet?

Well, we have been doing a few little magical things ourselves, but only using the magic of theatre arts! But tomorrow, Mr Magic - I don't know his real name, perhaps we're not allowed to know it, all I was told by the deputy stage manager was that tomorrow, Mr Magic - is coming. Now, I know the effects that many of these tricks will have, but I will have to sign a non-disclosure form about the actual magic we will practice. I do know there are some rather risqué and dangerous things that have got Mr Magic very excited, but I'm afraid I can't tell you any more about that!

Doctor Faustus runs at the West Yorkshire Playhouse from 23 February to 16 March. For further information visit wyp.org.uk/what's-on


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