The production team of Doctor Faustus are onto something. St. Peter’s Church, the tiny venue next to Kettle’s Yard where this skillfully realised production of Faustus was performed, was made for theatre. The church is set back from Castle Hill, and when viewed from the base of its charmingly winding path, looks as though it is surrounded by fields. It is disarmingly picturesque, and its isolation was at times rendered terrifying during a highly effective - though not always affecting - production of Christopher Marlowe’s classic.

The play is the first student production to take place here. This, combined with the fact that it runs alongside an exhibition of Cambridge artist Tom de Freston’s work, suggests an exciting amount of vision and inspiration before one even settles in a seat. The decision to set a play about a man who sells his soul to the devil for a lifetime of power and knowledge in a church was well judged, and the play itself well executed. There was a respect in the direction that befitted the spirituality of a church. It would have been too easy to present a shock-value production; what we were given instead was a nuanced and well acted performance.

The set truly was exceptional, although one could, of course, argue that the design team had much of the hard work done for them. The church consists of one miniscule room, and the play filled all of its forty-odd seats. The sense of claustrophobia was not assuaged by the high ceiling, which only served to render the church shockingly cold.  How often do you have blankets provided pre-performance? Teamed with glimpses of de Freston’s beautiful and powerful paintings, the church was nothing if not atmospheric. Doctor Faustus commences with its namesake (Ben Blyth) sitting at a book-strewn desk, candlelight illuminating his freezing breath as he struggles to find a way to “be immortalised for some cure”. Blyth was arresting in his monologue, and tender in his portrayal of Faustus’ frustration and intensity. All soon goes dark and histrionic for the entrance of Mephistophilis (Toby Parker Rees), appearing in the chalk circle drawn by Faustus and surrounded by writhing demons disguised as syphilitic whores. It all sounds terribly dramatic, and it was - rather melodramatic, in fact. Parker Rees started excellently as Lucifer’s dandified minion, his height and demeanor supremely impressive, but did not quite achieve the menace necessary to convince as a resident of Hell. Blyth, too, lost some momentum; I never caught the despair that would come with the comprehension of eternal damnation. This said, both at times delighted in their delivery, and provided pleasant surprises of comic timing.

The chorus were a good directorial decision that wasn’t always delivered in full. All three actresses were strong and superbly versatile in their many roles, but I was left bemused by their depiction of the good-and-bad-angels of Faustus’ conscience. Much, however, was forgiven during the Pope scene (well done, Pope!)... just go see.

It was impossible not to be impressed by the production, but I would have liked to leave a little more moved. A bold break from Cambridge's theatrical conventions, the setting, staging and collaboration with de Freston are refreshingly different. If nothing else, when the final blackout comes and there is no neon fire exit sign punctuating the darkness, you realise how wonderful it is to be watching a play somewhere other than a theatre.

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