London’s most active amateur theatre company, The Tower Theatre, has been in business for more than 80 years – but shows no sign of getting tired. Their new production of Doctor Faustus at Theatro Technis is dramatic, intense and gripping, and while it may not have Kit Harington in his pants, at least in this version we can all keep track of what’s going on.
Doctor Faustus, or to give Christopher Marlowe’s play its full title, The Tragical History of the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus, is the story of a bored German intellectual, who sells his soul to Lucifer in exchange for 24 years on Earth, the ability to use magic, and the devoted service of the demon Mephistopheles. The years pass, and Faustus becomes famous all over the world – but it’s only when his time begins to run out that he realises what a huge mistake he’s made.
Tower Theatre’s production, directed by Lucy Bloxham, is a relatively traditional interpretation of Marlowe’s text, featuring two central performances that wouldn’t look out of place on a professional stage. Jonathon Cooper is charmingly eccentric as Faustus, skilfully embodying every side of the character: the frustrated genius, the cocky celebrity and the terrified dead man walking. It’s hard to feel sympathy for a man who’s entirely responsible for his own downfall, but Cooper’s Faustus is just likeable enough that we can’t help hoping he’ll find a loophole as his final minutes tick away.
He’s joined by Tower Theatre veteran Robert Reeve as Mephistopheles, the demon charged with sweet-talking Faustus into giving up his soul, and then being his constant companion for 24 years until it’s time to collect on the debt. Dressed all in black, Reeve radiates a quiet authority, and it’s clear from his sly grin whenever Faustus isn’t looking who’s really in control of the situation.
The rest of the cast take on multiple roles, most memorably having a bit of fun with the seven deadly sins (in the case of Lust, played by Matt Cranfield, perhaps a bit too much fun). This and a couple of later scenes provide welcome moments of light relief in what is, let’s face it, not exactly the happiest of stories.
First-time director Lucy Bloxham makes effective use of the large stage area at Theatro Technis, with multiple entrances (including the one to hell, which is positioned alarmingly close to the audience) and a curtained off area behind which Lucifer himself appears to Faustus. There’s one slightly clunky set change in Act 2, which could benefit from something for the audience to look at while the furniture’s cleared away, but on the whole transitions between scenes are clean and efficient. And the clock that regularly appears to tick down the minutes until Faustus’ downfall is a nice dramatic touch, as is Adam Taylor’s lighting design, which creates a suitably hellish atmosphere throughout.
Once again, The Tower Theatre Company have made it clear that amateur doesn’t have to mean unprofessional or poor quality. Every member of the company volunteers their time and talent for the sheer love of theatre, and that passion shines through in this and every production I’ve seen. Who needs Kit Harington?
Doctor Faustus is at Theatro Technis until 4th February.