Sunday, 14 February 2016

What will be, shall be…

Oliver Ryan (Doctor Faustus) – photo by Helen Maybanks/RSC

The stars move still; time runs; the clock will strike;
The devil will come, and Faustus must be damned.

It’s perhaps surprising just how much an audience can make or break a performance. Not only was the Swan seemingly filled with patients on a night out from the sanatorium – there was interminable coughing from all quarters of the theatre – but the gentleman to my left fidgeted in his seat constantly; and must have glanced (what I mean is “stared longingly”) at his watch every two or three minutes; and right from the start (“for where we are is hell, And where hell is must we ever be”). I therefore found it immensely difficult to maintain the concentration I had kept so very easily on Thursday, at the press night. As a result, if this had been my only visit to see The Tragical History of the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus, I am sure that my review would not have been quite so enthusiastic.

I also noticed – having previously been at the front; but now sat several rows further back – how the music (“a mixture of the seductive and repulsive”) sometimes overwhelmed the speech. Maybe it is my hearing aids’ inability to balance these sounds correctly; but – as much as I believe this “is integral to the production” (and is wonderfully performed) – I do wonder (again) what reasons a director can possibly give for making the actors compete in this way. It certainly does not aid comprehension (even when you are beginning to reach the stage of being able to recite the text along with the cast)!

One of the (manifold) wonderful things about this production, however, is the absence of obvious technology. Special effects are few and far between – and mainly use projection (video designed by Nathan Parker) – and the play is as reliant on human interaction and effort as it would have been in Marlowe’s day. I think this is why the end result is so utterly visceral. Everything is just so very physical (blood, sweat and rending tears).

Sandy Grierson (Mephistophilis) – photo by Helen Maybanks/RSC

I had bumped into Sandy Grierson (who, again, tonight, played Mephistophilis) on a walk to Holy Trinity and back, to stretch my legs before the show: and had prayed that this was some sort of omen. But I was proven wrong, of course – perhaps I should have exchanged my soul…? – although I could never be disappointed one iota, witnessing Oliver Ryan’s mesmerizing portrayal of “the said John Faustus”. (“Wretch, what hast thou done?”) He inhabits every word; and grows increasingly manically possessed by the powers he has summoned (as well as regret). The final act – despite the infernal attempts of those around me to distract (with the “pain, that tortures others”) – therefore held me rapt again in its shocking embraces.

O my God, I would weep, but the devil draws in my tears. Gush forth blood instead of tears, yea, life and soul. O, he stays my tongue! I would lift up my hands, but see, they hold ’em, they hold ’em.

Oliver Ryan (Doctor Faustus) – photo by Helen Maybanks/RSC

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