Glutted – Of This

Doctor Faustus as you never imagined it: Raphael Lyne introduces a special film made for Cambridge Authors by Jeremy Hardingham and Ollie Evans.

The Judith E. Wilson Drama Studio, which is found in the basement of the English Faculty building, is used for rehearsal and performance by many different groups in the university. It is also a place where theatrical practice and literary criticism are brought together as part of teaching and research in the Faculty. When we decided to feature Doctor Faustus in the Cambridge Authors project, it seemed a good idea to include some video of the play in performance. Jeremy Hardingham, the Drama Studio Manager, agreed to put something together. We’re delighted with the result, but it’s nothing like we expected. He and Ollie Evans have transformed hints in the play into a series of scenes incorporating mime, movement, puppetry, unexpected movements – but no script. If you’re new to experimental theatre this will be an eye-opener, but the more thought you give it, the more it will pose questions about the play. On this page you can find the video, but also a viewer’s guide making a few suggestions, and saying what it made me think about. At the end you’ll also find an interview I did with Jeremy where he gives his take.


Movie goes here.

Viewer’s Guide

As I see it, there are eight parts to the film. I have given them titles, and I have said what I think is important in each one, and what it seems to be addressing in Doctor Faustus. You might feel completely different about it – and look out for Jeremy’s view further down the page.

1. 'Rehearsal’ (0.00 – 2.00)

In strange lighting, with ghostly cloths hanging above (the blue one on the right looks quite demonic), the two actors seem to be preparing for something. Jeremy (in a suit) watches the camera anxiously and fusses over his clothing, as if he does not feel clean.
This feels to me like preparations for performance rather than something deriving from the play itself. I liked the way the actor seems suspicious of the camera – Marlowe’s play is a theatrical spectacle, but it might have felt risky to watch such demonic activity when it was first performed; perhaps it still does.

2. 'Puppet’ (2.01 – 7.18)

Ollie’s little puppet – a strange white human figure – reads a book, then brings a match to see it better, and finally takes up a spoon as if to eat the words.
As well as admiring the skill in the puppetry here, I thought this seemed to pick up on some crucial things in Doctor Faustus:
(i) The puppet is a controlled figure who makes no choices: Faustus wants devils to do his bidding, but he is the real puppet. I felt sympathy for the puppet here, but I also felt estranged from it, as something enough like me to be troubling, but not enough like me to be familiar – perhaps that’s one way of responding to Faustus himself.
(ii) Books are so important in the play: they are the sources of conventional and devilish wisdom for the scholarly central character. Here I thought the book seemed a strange thing, vulnerable when the flame went near, but powerful when it seemed to be providing physical nourishment.

3. and 4. 'Lightbulb’ (7.19 – 13.50)

There is a bright lightbulb between us and Jeremy. He obviously wants to touch it, and to mark it in some way; he even seems to want to eat it. Eventually he eats some tissue wrapped around it.
The light exerts a lot of power here – it is obviously very tempting. What does it stand for? In Doctor Faustus the hero is tempted first by the knowledge and power he might get from a pact with the devil, and later by the prospect of repentance. Either of these might shine attractively, but they can both appear dangerous. This section of the film suggests an insight into Faustus’s private moments, where he is drawn towards things that will cost him a great deal.

5. 'Head’ (13.51 – 14.44)

Here the puppeteer of section 2 (Ollie Evans) stares impassively outwards, before taking off his hood.
This seems like a bridging section to me, preparing for the much stranger headshot of section 6.

6. and 7. 'Cross’ (14.45 – 16.57)

At first, watery visual effects make it hard to make out what we are seeing. Then (through mist) we see a man with a whitened face holding a plank. The image is reminiscent of pictures of Christ carrying the cross. The plan actually has a cross drawn on it, and the words 'do not use’.
You can find images of Christ and the cross easily on the web. The one that seems most pertinent to me is by Hieronymous Bosch and it’s in the art museum at Ghent. It is actually one of several he painted on the theme.
Faustus thinks a lot about Christ as the play comes to an end. He seems at times to want to reach out to his mercy and suffering, and thus to find salvation. Perhaps he also views himself as a kind of Christ-like figure, struggling nobly. It seems telling, then, that the 'cross’ here is a plank, that the suffering face is obviously created with make-up, and the words 'do not use’ remind us that Faustus never gets saved.

8. 'Finale’ (16.58 – 25.12)

This is the same scene as in section 1. Now the actors are speeded up and in a frenzy of activity. We recognise numerous things from the rest of the film, but here things are quite chaotic, with slapstick humour and general frenzy.
This part of the film reminded me most of the lines which gave it its title:

How am I glutted with conceit of this!
Shall I make spirits fetch me what I please,
Resolve me of all ambiguities,
Perform what desperate enterprise I will? (1.1.78-81)

This part of the film seemed more about 'desperate enterprise’ and feeling 'glutted’ than about having any ambiguities resolved. There are moments in the play where all Faustus’s power seems to enable him mainly to do tricks, and these can’t stop time passing, and his end coming nearer. The accelerated action of this section, leading nowhere, might make us think of the empty excitement of devilish powers.

The Performer’s Viewpoint

Here you can find a conversation I had with Jeremy Hardingham. If you're interested in the film and how it came to be, then he has a lot to say about it here. I found it particularly thought-provoking that he emphasised how their performance took its initial motivations from Marlowe's play, but then developed along its own, often spontaneous, pathways. This often led to reflections on the meaning of performance, acting, designing, and directing, all of which are relevant to Faustus.


Over To You

When we read plays we are often tempted to imagine them in performance. Questions like 'how would this be acted?’ and 'how would this look on stage?’ often provide insights into lines, speeches, scenes, and characters. Why not think about how some key scenes in Doctor Faustus could be performed? But don’t just limit yourself to the usual ways we see plays performed in theatres. Why not consider something more adventurous? This is a challenging piece of work, and perhaps challenging forms of drama fit it best.

1. Early in the play Faustus has a long speech where he dismisses all the usual kinds of university learning and chooses magic instead. It might just be a declamation – a formal piece of public speaking in which he shows off his wide reading. Maybe it needs props, or movement, or some less predictable way of capturing how he is abandoning acceptable studies in favour of forbidden things. How would you do it?

2. Faustus and Mephistopheles act like intimate friends, as co-conspirators, as master and servant, as deceiver and deceived. How would you capture one or more of the twists and turns in their relationship? In 'Glutted – Of This’ the puppet seemed like it could become a powerful way of depicting Faustus. What do you think would be an interesting and unexpected way of presenting him and his devilish advisor?

3. When Faustus is in his final agonies he frenziedly cries out to Christ, quotes poetry, complains and exults. Should this be done in a tragic style, or should it seem melodramatic and strangely conceited? What should be happening around him – the fires of hell? Think of an interesting way of making this scene take an unpredictable turn.

And please tell us what you think about 'Glutted - Of This' in the comments section below.

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