I spent last Saturday in London, mostly at the Barbican.
I'd booked to see 'Doctor Faustus', with my friend A (with whom I also saw the Jamie Lloyd Co. version back in April), and also to see 'The Alchemist' by myself - they are both RSC productions which have transferred from Stratford to London, and of the same actors appear in both.
They are, however, very different productions.
The Alchemist was written by Ben Jonson and was first performed, at the Globe Theatre, in 1610. This production was the first time I've seen it, and I avoided reading up on it in advance so came to it with an open mind.
This production was in period dress, (although the introductory music moves seamlessly from generic medieval twangly harpsichord to more familiar tunes - snatches of the 'Mission Impossible' and 'James Bond' themes being particularly notable!)
It made the most of every drop of comedy in the text. Dishonourable trio, Jeremy / Face (Ken Nwosu), Dol Common (Siobhán McSweeney) and Subtle (Mark Lockyer) take advantage of the fact that Jeremy the butler has been left in charge of his master's house, while his master flees the plague, join forces to con their neighbours, with Subtle posing as a learned Doctor and Alchemist, and Face as his friend, the dashing Captain, and Dol as, well, whatever is necessary, from Queen Mab, to wealthy and learned lady.
|'Dol Common' (c) Helen Maybanks|
It's fast and farcial, as the trio try to prevent their various victims from running into one another, while making as much profit as they can without, of course, actually delivering anything in return!
I'm not a bit fan of farce but I did enjoy the show, and liked the way that this production draws in the audience, making us complicit in their (mis-)deeds!
After the show I met up with A and we had a very good meal, before returning to the Barbican for (for me) the second play of the day.
Doctor Faustus is a very different production, both from The Alchemist and from the previous production of the same play we saw earlier in the year.
At the start, the Sandy Grierson and Oliver Ryan walk on stage in silence, mirroring each others actions. They each strike a match. The one whose match burns out first plays Faustus, and the other plays Mephistophelis.
It must be challenging, not to know until the last moment which role you will be playing that night!
For the performance we saw, Oliver Ryan played Faustus, and Sandy Grierson, Mephistophilis.
It's still a very odd play.
Oliver Ryan as Faustus (left) and Sandy Grierson as Mephistophilis.
(c) Helen Maybanks
I preferred this version to the Kit Harrington / Jamie Lloyd one I saw, and thought both leads gave extraordinary performances.
The production had some excellent, and at times (intentionally) disturbing characters and costumes: the seven deadly sins were a nightmare burlesque, gluttony in a fat suit, lust as a drag queen, envy in a gimp suit, and covetousness with prostheses allowing it to walk on all fours, for instance.
There were also scary clowns in bowler hats, and worryingly fascist soldiers with black uniforms, masks and red rubber gloves..
Things did not end well for Faustus. But we knew that.
I'm glad to have seen it. I thought it was very interesting, and that the actors involved were excellent. But I'm not sure I would say I liked it, exactly.