Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus is a revolutionary concept for theatre. Just as much as the source material, the character of Faust; the ambitious doctor who sought to defy death, gradually growing power hungry at the cost of morality. Tiger House Theatre has updated Doctor Faustus, now a Pharmaceutical researcher who has lost her partner Beth. In the throes of bereavement, she is tempted by Mephistopheles into a pact to find a cure.
The sorrow of Mephistopheles being ingeniously kept intact from the original play is a testament to smart choices. All too often this character is a cut-out antagonist. A deal with the devil for power, a cautionary tale. Instead, Mephistopheles is sympathetic. Cunning? Oh yes, but still a well-rounded character. As too is Faustus, now a true protagonist of the piece. The heartache in each phone call to Beth’s answering machine is touching. Both our performers are the stars of the production, voices as forceful as their emoting.
Sharp edges with a clinical feel. Icy steel, heartless black and hopeful whites. The only colour this evening is found in the departed character of Beth, Emma’s hopes embodied. Simple choices like this prove that creatively someone is clued in. Some decisions made are well-constructed, sensible and some borderline brilliant.
Often accused of forced exposition, the genre of the musical is guilty of cramming information. Songs created purely to further the plots are part and parcel of the form. However, the only area in which Faustus fails is with its music score; which tragically, is vital for a musical. Lyrically a solid majority of the numbers have no chorus or rhythm. or even fail to be memorable. They are purely expositional. This is also a sung-through musical. With only one or two lines delivered out of the verse. A full 75 minutes of songs leaves the audience completely unable to breath, gather information and process it. Huge kudos to the performer of Emma, singing almost solidly for the entire show.
Intensity abounds, overflowing in potential, Doctor Faustus is just too much in too little a frame. Fitting of Faust themselves, there is monumental ambition with talent to carry it. Core decisions about the score and lyrics though riddle a stunning piece with lengthy pitfalls.