r Monkey scampered into Manchester to go to the press night of the Royal Exchange Theatre's new production of Christopher Marlowe's Doctor Faustus
He checked the posters outside, and decided that it looked like Doctor Faustus was going to be a rather sinister Doctor. Inside he trotted upstairs to the Mezzanine Gallery to look at the Borderlines
exhibition, then went into the Education Lounge to examine the model of the stage set on show in the glass topped table.
Mr Monkey took his seat, read his programme, and sat back to enjoy the play. He spent most of the next three hours (less the 20 minute interval) on the edge of his seat.
This is a brilliant and fast moving production, making full use of the audio resources of the Exchange theatre pod - this is not a relaxing or relaxed production. Incidental music and lighting effects are dramatic, spirits good and evil communicate with Faustus in bursts of radio static, smoke oozes through the stage, hordes of alarming stiff-legged zombie-like creatures run on and off threateningly, and the appearance of the Seven Sins is handled most imaginatively. There's also some pretty nifty stage magic during the central comedy section, which impressed Mr Monkey.
The central section of the play, which sometimes gets less attention than it might (hence Mr Rik's favourite A-level question: "Dr Faustus has a beginning and an end, but no middle" Discuss.
) is very well handled. There's a fair amount of slapstick and a neat running visual gag involving Faustus' luggage, but what serious content there is - interference in papal politics - is highlighted as much as it can be (admittedly, not very long before Faustus blows raspberries at the pope).
Mr Monkey has always felt that Doctor Faustus was a bit of an idiot - summoning a demon from Hell and then disputing the existence of Hell with the demon surely indicates a certain inability to think things through - but he rather warmed to this Doctor Faustus. Patrick O'Kane plays him with a mix of arrogance and vulnerability which makes his fall a tragedy rather than a source of malignant pleasure. He's excellently partnered by a very calm and patient Mephistopheles, Ian Redford, who is a fine straight-demon to Faustus' more blatant foolishnesses. Gwendoline Christie is very good as a languid Lucifer, clad in silver scales and chuckling through Faustus' final despairing speech.
At the end of the play, as Doctor Faustus vanished beneath the stage of the Exchange, Mr Monkey (for the first time ever) actually felt sorry for him, which can't be bad.
(Mr Monkey still thinks Doctor Faustus was an idiot, though).