Henry Broome reviews the modern version of the play, Faustus, as part of the Marlowe 450 season.

The Fourth Monkey production of Doctor Faustus marks the start of a series of performances and lectures to celebrate the Canterbury born playwright Christopher Marlowe. Doctor Faustus is a play about a man of education that trades his soul to the devil for fortune and fame.

As the Marlowe 450 series suggests the interlude between Marlowe’s life and the twenty-first century audience is a lengthy one. We have become increasingly secular and as a result apathetic to accounting for sin. So I must question  , when Mephostophilis, Lucifer’s agent, declares ‘Fools that will laugh on earth must weep in hell’, do his words of admonition still frighten us?

Although, the Fourth Monkey’s production uses some quite crude ways to relate to a contemporary audience (I’m referring to the nuns with guns), there are also some subtler devices that serve to show how relevant the conflict of morality and excess are to our own culture.

Alin Connant, the director, has modernised and radicalised the play with sexed-up demons orchestrated by heavy metal and the unconventional casting of a female doctor. Faustus (played by Alexander Reynolds) is like a Disney princess – as innocent as she is captivating. Reynolds’ portrayal sets Faustus up as victim of her own wide-eyed ambition. Though the conjurers and demons are a source of comic derision they ultimately damn Faustus. Connant is clever; he both mocks outdated belief systems and recognises today’s youth’s impatience for fame and fortune.

On the other hand, the similarities are accentuated between Marlowe’s intentions and a modern audience. The playwright again and again flouts the laws of time and space. Faustus can transport to Rome and conjure heroes from Ancient Greece. These theatrical oddities are comparable to our own televised culture in which we can pause and rewind time. A scene that particularly illustrates this bridging is one where Faustus uses her powers to repeatedly delight in a fatal duel between Lucifer and Alexander the Great – each time enjoying it more. It is as true now as it was in Marlowe’s era; ambition and insanity are two sides of the same coin.

Fourth Monkey has assembled a cast of exuberant young actors, with Alexandra Reynolds as Faustus, Katherine Turner as the playful Mephostophilis and Danny Brown, who borrows the rhotacisms of Monty Python, relishes the role of the resentful servant. The production’s few naiveties are vastly outweighed by the skill that has been employed in reinvigorating the story of Marlowe’s classic.

The Marlowe series continues next Tuesday and Wednesday (18/19th March) as Fourth Monkey put on The Massacre at Paris in Canterbury Cathedral’s eerie crypt. The following week they return to the Marlowe Studio for a production of The Jew of Malta (26-28 March). Expect more laughs, more frights and most importantly more Marlowe.