Sunday, 17 July 2016

Doctor Faustus

Botanic Gardens, Glasgow
Four stars

The dressing up box sitting at one end of the Kibble Palace is telling about the latest venture put together for the fifteenth anniversary season of Bard in the Botanics. As a clock ticks behind it, here, after all, is the laid out apparel of dress to impress immortality designed for a life destined to be unlived.

After remaining monogamous to Shakespeare's collected works for so long, the Bard in the Botanics company have been tempted by his contemporaries for a new strand dubbed Writing the Renaissance. If setting out its store with Christopher Marlowe's unhinged and altogether wilder play than most of Shakespeare's canon is a statement of intent, the future should be nothing if not lively.

This is especially the case if Jennifer Dick's relentless ninety minute adaptation for three actors is anything to go by. Here Adam Donaldson's bookish Faustus chalks pentagrams either side of a Pandora-like box that sits dead centre on the floor. With Ryan Ferrie's Good Angel sporting a bright blue suit embossed with gold leaf crucifixes at one end of the room, and Stephanie McGregor's gothic sprite Mephistopheles at the other, it is as close a physical approximation of devils and angels looming over Faustus' shoulders as one can get onstage.

As good and evil wrestle for Faustus' soul, a form of celestial cos-play takes place which, stripped back as it is in Dick's production, possesses an intimacy that looks increasingly like a tug of love, where hearts and minds as well as souls are up for grabs. This is accompanied by swathes of sonic sturm und drang, which comes in the form of amplified piano crashes and satanically inclined vocal distortions that could have been lifted from big screen schlock-fests involving massed teenage possessions.

Beyond such technical alchemy, it is McGregor's full range of emotional extremities that is most memorable here. Like a comic book super villainess, her face is a picture of low attention span contortions that flit between manic glee and unhinged fury in a heartbeat. Seen in close up in this way, such a series of facial tics makes for a fascinating reflection of Mephistopheles' tortured psyche. As her presence as demonic predator crumbles with Faustus' own demise, it is the final image of Mephistopheles that is most affecting, as she exits heartbroken, back in Hell once more.

The Herald, July 18th 2016

ends

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