Wednesday, October 26, 2011
Summer in London – part 3: This is Hell and We are in it
There is maybe not too much more to say about our trip to London. We visited the new Gosh comics on Berwick Street. With the Soul Jazz shop round the corner and Sister Ray probably still hanging in, the Berwick Street area may become once more a gravitational centre for any trip to the big smoke. And we went to Shakespeare's Globe (TM) to see Christopher Marlowe's Doctor Faustus.
I love visiting the Globe (a reconstruction of the theatre in which Shakespeare's works were originally performed). It has some winning features. Firstly, the plays are staged in something vaguely approximating to how they would have been in Elizabethan England, which is fascinating to someone like me who is interested in theatre history. Secondly, you can get in for a fiver if you are willing to stand for the performances' duration – not a problem if you are as used to standing at gigs as I am.
Doctor Faustus was a particular draw for me, as it is one of the classics of Elizabethan drama and so of theatre generally. As you know, it concerns this fellow Faustus (a doctor) who hits on the bright idea of selling his soul to the Devil. The Devil grants him an extended life in which he will have the demonic prince Mephistopheles as his servant. The play follows first Mephistopheles luring Faustus into the pact and then distracting him with fun stuff (like kicking the Pope or letting him shag Helen of Troy) to prevent him from renouncing the pact and throwing himself on God's mercy. For comic relief, the idiot servants of Dr Faustus also dabble in the black arts, with hilarious consequences.
I suppose what makes the play work so well is its sense of gothic doom and of the dreadful awfulness of the damnation to which Faustus has signed himself. You can tell that the demons are all miserable – there are lovely scenes where Mephistopheles and even the Devil himself wince whenever God is mentioned or respond in pained tones whenever they are asked to describe Hell ("This is Hell and we are in it", or some such replies Mephistopheles – when you no longer behold the Countenance Divine then everywhere is damnation). For all that Faustus is meant to be one of the great brains of his age, he is clearly not the sharpest knife in the drawer if he is willing to align himself with this bunch of malevolent losers. We know this will end very badly for him.
One amusing thing about this production was that Mephistopheles was played by Arthur Darville – a man probably better known for his portrayal of Rory From Doctor Who. Rory From Doctor Who has a certain gormless quality (albeit a loveable gormlessness that goes with a character a bit more fully rounded than might be expected from Gormless Boyfriend Of Doctor's Assistant) but Darville showed here that he is not just a one trick pony by being able to convey the melancholic and malevolent qualities of a Prince of Hell. Paul Hilton as Faustus was also excellent, though I don't think he has ever been in Doctor Who.
And that was almost that, though we did also find time to meet people in a pub and visit Highgate cemetery.
An inuit panda production