Arts Review: Doctor Faustus – Bard in the Botanics

Dir. Jennifer Dick, Botanic Gardens, 15 July – 30 July 2016


Jennifer Dick’s adaptation of Marlowe’s classic is haunting, sincere and polished. The Kibble Palace Glasshouse in the Botanic Gardens provides a fitting backdrop for this timeless story of a man’s pact with the forces of evil and the downfall of his soul as a result of his excessive pride. The looming foliage and the layer of fog that presses against the windows of the Victorian glasshouse create an acute atmosphere of claustrophobia, and the production exploits this skilfully to capture the oppressive darkness at the heart of the play.

The three actors are quite stretched when it comes to representing the substantial list of characters in Marlowe’s original text, but the production deserves praise for its ambition and creativity in attempting to do so.  Whilst the plot can at times become slightly obscured by the confusion of characters and the relentless pacing of the play, this does nothing to compromise its emotional impact. With powerful and affecting performances that keep the audience on tenterhooks, the actors skilfully convey the harrowing emotional turmoil of the play, interspersing this with sinister pockets of comedy. Each new scene is smoothly executed, with certain captivating sequences such as the parade of the Seven Deadly Sins really standing out. The raw anguish that erupts without warning at certain points of the play is genuinely terrifying, even if it does occasionally risk becoming melodramatic.

It’s encouraging to see a play that achieves so much with so few resources. The lack of grandiose special effects only accentuates the subtle beauty of the costume design and the haunting piano soundtrack, and the actors manipulate the small performance space with meticulously choreographed movements that never cease to be compelling.

All in all, Dr Faustus is a both a joy and a terror to watch – and this is exactly as it should be.

[Cat Acheson – cat_acheson]

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