Review: Doctor Faustus at the RSC

arthur-darvill-doctor-fau-007Ed and I first watched Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus at the Globe Theatre in 2011. The play is arguably ‘the greatest tragedy in English before Shakespeare’ (Globe, 2016). It could also be argued that Marlowe was the greatest Elizabethan English dramatist, until he was untimely and inconveniently killed, which created a considerable space for Shakespeare in the London theatrical scene. According to Bate (1997, pp.101-132), the influence of Marlowe’s work, and death, on Shakespeare should not be underestimated. A clear example is the similarities and also the striking contrasts between Marlowe’s The Jew of Malta and Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice (Lima, 2016).

Last week we watched the new production of the play put on by the RSC, directed by Maria Aberg, with Sandy Grierson and Oliver Ryan alternating in the role of Faustus and Mephistophilis. The title role is decided at the beginning of each performance by the stroke of a match and we got Gierson as Faustus and Ryan as the demon. To be honest, at the beginning I was not really sure of what Ryan was trying to achieve with his take on the character. It took me a bit of time to reset my expectations as the Mephistophilis I watched at the Globe was a sophisticated speaker, charming to the uttermost level while his Ryan’s performance felt idiosyncratic, full of mannerisms, and a sort of Caliban-ish to me. However, his rendition of Faustus’ line in the famous ‘a thousand ships’ soliloquy was superb.

Gierson was a tormented and convincing Faustus and his dance with an innocent and child-like looking Jade Croot as Helen of Troy was the most powerful, memorable, and disturbing moment in the play. Credits go to the choreographer, Ayse Tashkiran, and the composer, Orlando Gough, for so powerfully conveying quite a lot of the text though music and dance.

A colleague of mine commented that this is a ‘Marmite production’ and I tend to agree. Some people in our party were quite cold about the production, to say the least, but I also think this one is a grower: the more I think about the performance and the psychological and theological implications (Lima, 2008) of the scenes, the more I like it.

Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus at the Royal Shakespeare Company, 2016.


  • Bate, J. (1997) The Genius of Shakespeare. London: Picador.
  • Lima, E. (2008) Doctor Faustus and the question of salvation. Ed’s Essays [Online] Available at Accessed 19 Apr 2016
  • Lima, E. (2016) Race and religion in The Jew of Malta and The Merchant of Venice. Bridges, Vol1(1), pp. 5-11.