Immortality and the butler from hell

19th April 1996 at 01:00
Neil Sissons's production of Christopher Marlowe's Dr Faustus by the Compass Theatre Company offers an intense and compact Faustus. Shorn of its earlier comic scenes, and with its later ones not among the production's glories, the evening focuses on the FaustusMephastophilis relationship. From the long, opening image of the latter seated, brooding amid red light and mournful violin, it is clear the heat of hell offers cold comfort.

Yet along comes eager young academic Faustus, fingers working with nervous enthusiasm for knowledge. Having searched the orthodox books on his desk, Faustus drags the necromantic volumes from under Mephastophilis's chair. When the devil reappears, he is a large, louring, gravel-voiced butler from hell, his fatalistic steadiness of pace a contrast to Faustus' matter-of-fact impatience to sign the deed. It is a stark contrast of experience and innocence.

Advantages of Sissons's approach include the sense of time travelled Elizabethan Faustus grows old as a cavalier, finally being stripped of his finery and the smooth elisions between scenes, such as Faustus' immediate transition from his angry "what do you take me for?" to the horse dealer to the sad "What art thou Faustus but a man?" Then there's the haunting and chilling sound world created by violin, singing and live sound effects, evoking the sorrows and torments of Faustus' mind as of hell itself.

Runs 2 hours 5 minutes. Touring until June 14. Details: 0114 275 5328

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