Reviews: Doctor Faustus and The Mark of Zorro

THEATRE

 

Doctor Faustus

Citizens Theatre, Glasgow, until April 27

 

The Mark Of Zorro

Seen at Cumbernauld Theatre, run ended;

touring until May 13

 

Reviewed by Mark Brown

 

When, in the late 16th-century, Christopher Marlowe penned his great Gothic Renaissance play Doctor Faustus, he may not have imagined that it would resurface more than four hundred years later as a contemporary morality tale. Yet that is exactly what we have in this clever and creative reinvention by Citizens’ director Dominic Hill and adapter/playwright Colin Teevan (collaborating again following their successful version of Ibsen’s Peer Gynt in 2007).

Not for this Faustus a simple, Dawkinsian choice between atheism and religious belief. Rather, and more pertinently, the doctor sells his soul (and, along with it, his humanity) to the Devil in pursuit of the shallow attractions of modern secularism. It is only when Faustus (played, by turns, with great alacrity and affecting terror by Kevin Trainor) has immersed himself in brain rotting celebrity culture and hyper-commercial individualism that he realises he has killed the better part of himself.

On his journey into fame and misfortune, Faustus is accompanied by Siobhan Redmond’s brilliant, spiritually and sexually seductive Mephistopheles. As Teevan’s boldly rewritten middle section of the play (in which we are transported to Las Vegas) gatecrashes Marlowe’s script, the feminised demon’s fatalistic truth telling gives way to a bleak, wry humour at which Redmond excels.

Gary Lilburn’s appearances as, variously, a cabaret Lucifer, a decadent Pope and an overripe US President exemplify the production’s lovely combination of tragedy and comedy; even if his ageing rock star is somewhat overcooked. Colin Richmond’s imaginative set (all metatheatrical dressing room mirrors and appropriate postmodern clutter) is also an over-indulgent pleasure.

At times the piece has too light a touch. Occasionally lacking moral weight, it makes the soul quiver rather than shudder. Nevertheless, it is a smart 21st-century Faustus which could only be more timely if, upon his arrival in Hell, the titular doctor were to be confronted by a former British Prime Minister, recently arrived from The Ritz.

In The Mark Of Zorro, children’s theatre company Visible Fictions take us, not into Hell, but a Spanish imperial California which is, for the peasantry at least, little better. The titular masked hero sets out to liberate the colony from a vicious and corrupt military authority one sword fight at a time.

Inspired by the Zorro cartoon strips, the production is performed in and around designer Robin Peoples’s cleverly versatile, but sometimes cumbersome, set. The cartoon-style cardboard cut outs which stand-in for most of the characters in Davey Anderson’s nicely paced script make conceptual sense, but they have little of the personality or flexibility of real puppets.

Nevertheless, one has to admire the company’s defiantly low-tech approach to live drama; especially in a small Cumbernauld audience which included a young child who, depressingly and distractingly, followed the action on the screen of her smartphone (until an usher intervened). Combining narration with often highly physical performance, the show enjoys fine, impressively committed performances from the three-strong cast of Neil Thomas (Diego, aka Zorro), Denise Hoey (Diego’s beloved Isabella, the governor’s daughter) and Tim Settle (brilliant in an array of characters).

Blessed with a tremendously evocative musical score by David Trouton, director Douglas Irvine’s production is variable in the effectiveness of its theatrical ideas. Ultimately, however, it succeeds thanks to its excellent ensemble. In this Zorro, it is the actors who are the real heroes.

For tour dates for The Mark Of Zorro, visit: http://www.visiblefictions.co.uk

Slightly abridged versions of these reviews were originally published in the Sunday Herald on April 14, 2013

© Mark Brown

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