Though perhaps better known as a classic German fable immortalised in the work of national hero Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Doctor Faustus was first introduced to British audiences by Christopher Marlowe almost two centuries prior to Goethe’s intervention. It is from Marlowe’s work that tonight’s show takes its inspiration, put on by Amplify Theatre in their debut production upstairs at the Assembly Roxy.
“As unintelligible as Faust ever was,” is the terse judgement proclaimed by one audience member during the interval and eavesdropped by the ever-alert Wee Review. Though the source material does undoubtedly pose some problems in engaging a modern audience due to its archaic language, such an unkind description does great injustice to Amplify Theatre. It’s a tall order to render emotive a diction which is so alien to the Smartphone-addicted, short attention-spanned literati of the modern world, but the cast give it a thoroughly good go.
At times, these attempts to bring a dated script up to the present day come across as over-the-top and on occasion, certain cast members even appear to be channelling Tobias Fünke in their theatricality. However, Mhairi McCall makes a decent fist of communicating the inner turmoil and tragic flaws of the title character, while Alexander Bain shines as the first incarnation of Mephistopheles, providing some of the ensemble’s standout delivery and emotion. The devil’s appearance at the close of the first act is initially impactful, but it’s hard to escape the feeling that the character could have used more charisma and pizzazz – something along the lines of Jack Sparrow wouldn’t have gone amiss; if not that, then at least something to liven up such an archetypal figure.
It’s exactly this sort of magnetic chutzpah which is brought to the stage after the break, with Sarah Dingwall’s interpretation of the third Mephistopheles threatening to steal the show. Her playful silliness is the perfect salve to ease the difficulties inflicted on the audience by ye olde English in Marlowe’s script, and there’s not a scene in which she doesn’t steal the focus from her colleagues.
For the inaugural performance from a fledgling theatre company, Dr Faustus represents a bold and challenging choice, and Amplify do an admirable job in making this timeless tale relevant in terms of engagement as well as message. There’s no getting away from the fact that its antiquatedness does make the play a bit of a slog at times, but there are enough flashes of excellence and genuine hilarity to count the production as a success. Surely there’s plenty more to come from this young group – watch this space.