“I’ll make your life better than you can imagine or ever dreamed of, so relax your soul, let me take control.”
This quote, from the 1994 Snoop Dogg song Murder was the Case, takes pride of place in the press release for the newest Bell Shakespeare show, Faustus, a co-production with the Queensland Theatre Company.
Director (and acclaimed playwright) Michael Gow crafted the script from the two great dramatic versions of the story, Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus and Goethe’s Faust, as well as myriad plays, novels, operas, movies and artworks inspired by the story of Doctor Faustus.
He explained that while his was a radical adaptation of Marlowe’s play, there would be no Snoop on stage.
“We update the work without letting go of the richness of the original. I suppose I’m a bit of a dinosaur in that regard: I love text, I love words,” he told the Star Observer.
“The text is incredibly dense at times, but I think that’s part of what the audience finds satisfying — they get to hear this amazing verse with great images on stage.”
Rather, that Snoop Dogg quote represents a concerted effort by Bell Shakespeare to connect with audiences and have them understand that the works of Shakespeare, Marlowe and their ilk aren’t just dusty old museum pieces.
As Gow explained, this centuries-old story still has much to teach today’s audiences.
“Doctor Faustus reaches a crisis point and thinks he’s wasted his life. He sells his soul to Satan in exchange for youth and the opportunity to live forever in fame,” he said.
“The whole notion I think people will connect with is that we live in an instantaneous world now where you can have everything you want — people desperately clutch at anything that will ‘plug the gap’. But is there a shallowness or lameness to these things?
“[Faustus] finds out that all you end up with is a sense of hollowness. His hell is his eternal sense of regret and sorrow at the deal he made.”
Faustus sees Gow reunited with old friend and collaborator John Bell, who plays the title role very much against type.
“He trusts me, and he wanted to take risks — he didn’t want to play a terribly classical character, and so he’s channelling a bent cop to play this sidekick of the devil. He’s relishing the opportunity to do that.”
Gow has drawn from several previous adaptations to create this new adaptation, which he said was an arduous process — one made all the more complex by the production’s various multimedia elements and frequent musical pieces by the likes of Gounod, Berlioz, Liszt, Mahler and Schubert.
“It was a lot of work trying to make it fit together, rather than feel like bits of different works pieced together. It’s not terribly consistent, which was a choice on my part — I didn’t want it to be a smooth, naturalistic drama — but it definitely took a while to knit it all together.”
info: Faustus plays the Sydney Opera House from June 30 – July 24. www.bellshakespeare.com.au