Preview: Doctor Faustus, Citizens Theatre, Glasgow

Soul man

Kevin Trainor is relishing the prospect of playing Faustus at Glasgow’s Citizens Theatre, writes Mark Brown

 

Northern Irish actor Kevin Trainor has an enviable CV. Although he is, perhaps, best known for his TV role as John, the long-suffering son of “Ulster Mum” in The Catherine Tate Show, the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art graduate has played in many of the top theatres in Britain and Europe with such companies as the Royal Shakespeare Company and the European Theatre Group.

It’s a career which has stood him in good stead for his current role as the titular lead in Christopher Marlowe’s classical Renaissance drama Doctor Faustus. A co-production between Glasgow’s Citizens Theatre and the West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds, staged by the Citz’s artistic director Dominic Hill, this reworking of Marlowe’s play about the man who sells his soul to the devil includes a newly written middle section by Colin Teevan (author of the adapted script for Hill’s award-winning National Theatre of Scotland/Dundee Rep co-production of Ibsen’s Peer Gynt).

Having completed the show’s run in Leeds, Trainor is looking forward to bringing this imaginative version of Marlowe’s play to the Citz. “The production is pretty audacious and avant-garde”, he says. “Marlowe wrote an odd play and our production has the middle of it scooped out and rewritten as a satire of the contemporary film business.

“Someone I know happened to be passing through Leeds, and they said to me, ‘I don’t think you realise what an avant-garde production you’re in.’ That’s really stayed with me, because – while it has been, and I hope it will continue to be, a really popular production – I think if someone was studying this play at school and they came to see this production, it would be pretty exciting for them.”

A large part of that excitement, Trainor believes, comes from the manner in which Hill and Teevan have catapulted Faustus into the 21st-century. When the wretched Doctor comes face-to-face with the demon Mephistopheles, he discovers that Lucifer’s emissary is a woman (in the shape of acclaimed Scottish actress Siobhan Redmond). The demands that Faustus makes of Mephisto, in exchange for his soul, are very much of the modern day.

“Our Faustus opts for Las Vegas, showgirls, orgies, and loads of drink, as many of us might”, the actor suggests. “He meets rock stars and all of that. It’s pretty shallow what he goes for. Distraction by any means.”

The shift in the play, from Marlowe’s narrative and poetics to those of Teevan does, Trainor acknowledges, entail a quite deliberate “collision”. When the production opened in Leeds, the company wondered how the audience would negotiate the shift from Marlowe to Teevan.

“The first time we did it”, he remembers, “Siobhan and I both thought we’d lost the audience as we went into the first Teevan scene. But, by the second Teevan scene, they were laughing like drains. There’s a lot of extremely funny and unexpected physical comedy and witchy things going on.”

If the switch from Marlowe to Teevan involves a deliberate “bump”, the transition back into Marlowe’s play is less apparent. “When we went back into Marlowe’s scenes with the students in Wittenberg, and with Helen of Troy, a lot of the audience didn’t realise we’d gone from Teevan back to Marlowe. It sort of bleeds back into Marlovian language. The audience didn’t notice the shift. I think that’s a compliment to Dominic’s production and Colin’s writing.”

Indeed, so enamoured is Trainor of every aspect of this production, that he has quite a few, very genuine compliments of his own. The cast is, he says, “a wonderful ensemble”. Redmond, in particular, is, “one of the cleverest people I’ve ever met. She’s seldom at a loss for the mot juste. She’s very funny, generous, sane and available. She’s been very kind, and we have a bit of a laugh. I love working with her.”

The actor claims, modestly, to know little of European theatre. Which makes it doubly interesting for him to be in a production by Hill, who is often described as a director of continental tastes, which is set to open at the Citizens, a theatre famed for its European aesthetics.

“Everyone’s saying, ‘God, this is such a European production!'”, he comments. “They say, ‘we’re not used to seeing this sort of thing in Leeds, or even in London that much.'” This is, Trainor believes, very much a facet of Hill’s approach to directing. “Dominic’s an auteur. He’s not a dictator, he’s actually profoundly generous and rather humble. But he’s also an auteur who doesn’t want to stick with the received ways of doing things.”

Although Trainor has never performed at the Gorbals theatre before, he senses that Hill’s aesthetics are well-matched to the Citz’s illustrious history, particularly the three decades under Giles Havergal’s remarkable leadership. “Everyone’s heard of the Citz”, he says. “I’d heard of it growing up in rural Northern Ireland.

“When I tell people that I’ve been lucky enough to be playing Doctor Faustus at West Yorkshire Playhouse, they think it’s really good. But when I say, ‘we’re also doing it at the Citz’, they’re all very excited about it. The Citz is thought of as a place which has had a series of house styles which have been quite un-English and bold. I hope this production will please its audiences in Glasgow.”

 

Doctor Faustus plays at the Citizens Theatre, Glasgow, April 5 to 27. For further information, visit: http://www.citz.co.uk

This preview was originally published in the Sunday Herald on March 31, 2013

© Mark Brown

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