With rehearsals at the West Yorkshire Playhouse underway, Alice Rafter caught up with Colin Teevan, scriptwriter for Dr. Faustus, and got an exclusive insight into some of the ideas behind the production.
When it comes to adapting the play, Marlowe’s own work has not been re-written, but instead edited. Keeping the original opening and ending, acts three and four (which Teevan explains are suspect anyway) have been taken out, and in their place, a new section has been added in which Faustus tours the world.
The character of Mephistopheles, as a devil, can take any form they so wish. In the original, this form is a Franciscan friar, which for Teevan seems outdated: “the idea of been followed around by a Franciscan friar for 24 years seemed a bit dull.” Instead, the role is played by a woman, which has brought a lot of richness out of the performance, creating a marriage complex between the characters: “I thought it would be more fun, that having that relationship would be much more interesting if Mephistopheles was a woman… why shouldn’t it be a woman?” Further complicating this relationship is the addition of a love triangle between Faustus, Mephistopheles, and his servant, Wagner (also now played by a woman), bringing a new dynamic to the relationships within the play.
“I thought it would be more fun…more interesting if Mephistopheles was a woman… why shouldn’t it be a woman?”
The show is relying not just on theatrical magic but also conjuring magic. On board with the production is magic consultant James Freedman, and Teevan states that there are some “pretty grand magic tricks involved.” This came about through thinking of what Faustus would be if he were around today, such as a Derren Brown-like showman, using lots of tricks and conjuring. What is fantastic about this is that Derren Brown has in fact “very kindly agreed to make a virtual appearance,” having recorded a small section for the production. This explores Marlowe’s original theme of the shallowness of evil, Teevan explains.
For Teevan and Dominic Hill (director of the production), classics such as Dr. Faustus are seen as ‘safe’ plays. Nowadays, they won’t shock audiences in the same way they did in their original time. So, with this production, they aim to give back the shocking impact it would have originally had. Teevan compares Faustus to modern celebrity, wanting more power and adoration, never having enough: “that was our thinking with celebrity, to make it very modern…to give this play a vitality and relevance, like it had in that time…theatre in Elizabethan England is what the cinema is today.”
By the end of our conversation, Colin Teevan has expressed just how much fun he has had writing the play and I am seriously looking forward to this production’s run, starting from February 23rd.