The concept of selling your soul is embedded deep in our culture. It may no longer be the Middle Ages but signing a pact with the Devil is still a universal metaphor, popping up in everyday language more than ever. In recent memory, Newcastle United has been accused of selling its soul along with the naming rights for St James’s Park; actors, comedians and Iggy Pop have apparently sold their souls to an endless range of advertisers; Ebay has prevented a number of people from selling their souls online; and Kanye West claims to have actually gone through with the transaction.
The idea of bargain with the dark one has gripped our imaginations for centuries, and its roots in English literature go back to 1604 when Christopher Marlowe’s The Tragicall History of the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus was first performed. By then Marlowe himself, an inspired but combustible playwright, had been murdered in Deptford, possibly as payback in a pact with the secret services.
Dr Faustus is strange play, oscillating wildly between some of the greatest poetry ever written for the stage, and scenes of crude, farcical comedy as Faustus uses his ill-gotten powers to play a series of practical jokes on passers-by and the Pope. This jarring combination is what keeps the play more on the shelf than the stage, but it is still an experience every theatregoer should have. Pleasance Islington is hosting a version by Berkshire-based Scene Productions, a company known for its slick physical theatre, and exploring mime, puppetry, mask work and tightly choreographed movement: this Dr Faustus promises the occasional onstage illusion work too. If you missed the Globe’s weirdly cast version with Arthur Darvill as Mephistopheles last summer, this is a good opportunity to find out what so excited the Jacobeans.
Dr Faustus runs from 22 to 27 October at The Pleasance Theatre, Carpenters Mews, North Road, London N7. Tickets cost £11, but it's selling out fast, so get in there quick! Visit pleasance.co.uk/islington/events/dr-faustus to find out more.