Intricately and determinedly researched, one of the play’s immediate successes is how it changes one’s perception of the supernatural from 21st to 16th century. Instead of seeing sorcery and spirits as theatrical fantasy, they become a recognisable part of (wicked) life. Orlando Gough’s musical compositions play their part in this; electric rhythms (apparently based on an MRI machine) help foster a modern-day perspective on the actions of Faustus, as does the interweaving of video images and the uniforms of attendant demons/scholars (something of out A Clockwork Orange), and the Emperor’s guards (something out of Nuremburg).
A match made in heaven. Or hell. Indeed, Faustus and Mephistophilis chant together, dance together, pull pranks together. Stab the pope together. An intriguing dynamic of the play is that Sandy Grierson and Oliver Ryan share the leading roles. Challenging enough, you might think, but the decision as to who plays Faustus at each performance is actually made live on stage. Both actors, identically dressed, enter and light a match. Whoever’s goes out first plays the good doctor. Perhaps there is something to be said about the fact that the ‘burnout’ plays Faustus – a man who is doomed to flare briefly with his otherworldly knowledge, yet have his soul extinguished by a satanic pact, whilst Mephistophilis burns on, a constant temptation, presence and threat. Either this, or they thought ‘rock paper scissors’ would look a little out of place.
Critical essays on Christopher Marlowe
Sandy Grierson, then, was Mephistophilis. A sardonic Scottish demon, dressed in white suit but with blackened feet, his seduction of Faustus’ soul was a privilege to watch. Like Faustus, he too is trapped; having seen heaven, yet now a permanent resident of hell. With anger never too deeply hidden, his gulling of Faustus made sure the audience were in the palm of his hand. A dangerous place to be with a demon.