Monday, 8 November 2010

Buy Doctor Faustus on DVD

Doctor Faustus is now available to buy on DVD. Cost: £14.75 inc P&P. Free A3 poster (while stocks last) and instructions on how to download the education resource pack which accompanied the production.

Click here to purchase via PayPal.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Dr. Faustus in the Modern World

In January-February 2010, 3860 people came to Stratford Circus to see Present Moment’s production of Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus.

Here, in conjunction with Stratford Circus and Circus Media, we present art inspired by the story of Doctor Faustus, created by young people from the outer East London boroughs.


Project Director:
Jules Tipton

Chris Buckingham
Adrian Figueroa
Ria Knowles
Oscar Ward

On 16 January 2010, a group of young people came from all over Newham, Redbridge, Barking & Dagenham, Havering and Waltham Forest. Most of them had never met each other before. They worked as a whole group, learning specialist theatre skills, in a series of voice and movement workshops led by theatre professionals. That evening, they watched the Present Moment production of Doctor Faustus.

The following Friday they met again. They devised and rehearsed all weekend and every night until the showcase performance of their work on 27 January at Stratford Circus. Each piece is was inspired, in some way, by the themes of the play and the style of the Present Moment production.

One of the pieces from, "The Price That Must Be Paid", can be viewed below.


Project Director:
Shannen Owen

Playwright Mentors:
Kat Joyce
Nicholas McInerney
Charlotte Thomson
Sheila White

In November & December 2009, over 40 young people between the ages of 14 & 18, from Waltham Forest, Redbridge, Newham, Havering and Barking and Dagenham began writing their own ten minute play based on themes of Doctor Faustus. They received a variety of workshops with professional playwrights and actors to support the process.

8 plays by 10 young people were cast and rehearsed with Present Moment’s company of actors. Directed by the professional playwrights, by Joss Bennathan (Present Moment’s Artistic Director) and by Jules Tipton (Associate Director), the plays moved from page to stage. The plays were also published.

One of the pieces from, "Temptation and Desire," can be viewed below.


Circus Media Manager:
Sammy Gildroy

Project Manager:
Tom Stoddart

Project Manager:
Annette Telesford

Project Officer:
Donna Bamford

Workshop Leader:
Alice Knight

Mentored by media professionals, young people not in education, employment or training, were the creative driving force for this project, which took place in January 2010. The film has been screened at Stratford Circus and as part of the Film East Festival.


Project Director:
Eliza Williams

Artist In Residence:
Cristina Ottonello

A large scale mobile, shown below, was on exhibition at Stratford Circus throughout the run of the production.

Doctor Faustus In The Modern World was supported by:

Newham Youth Opportunities

For further information, contact:

Saturday, 9 January 2010

Stumbling through

When I’m in rehearsal, everything else gets put on hold. This is my explanation for the lack of blog action. Houses remain untidied. Food becomes a series of takeaways, sandwiches and whatever is in the freezer. Family and friends are neglected I’ve got a cast of 17 and a creative team of 10 – do I need more social interaction?! No.

We finished in the rehearsal studios yesterday. (What a pleasure it has been to rehearse at the Jerwood Space). The creative and technical side of the operation have moved to Stratford Circus to do creative and technical things. I’m not called until tomorrow morning. We start technical rehearsals with the cast tomorrow afternoon.

There is not a lot a director can do at the get in, apart from fret and interfere and irritate the creative and technical team. So I have a day off –that is, if finishing the programme and writing interim reports for funders and chasing up people who haven’t RSVP-ed to press night invitations counts as a day off.

We are in good shape. We’re ready to move to the next stage. (Excuse the pun). It’s exciting.

One of the reasons we’re in good shape is that we’ve now run the show 4 times. The first stumble through was just before our Christmas break. The first stumble through is always just about getting through it. Anything else is a bonus. Nerve wracking but incredibly useful for everyone. The ensemble discovered just how much work they have to do and how precisely their scene shifting needs to be choreographed, as the world mutates around Faustus. Mephistopheles and Faustus got a sense of the arc of their journeys. I got to see what worked and what didn’t.

Monday, 14 December 2009

First Week of Rehearsal

The first week of rehearsals was great but exhausting, as it always is. The first week of rehearsals was a combination of practical considerations, creative decisions and exploration and team building, as it always is. You can see footage of the actors talking and some of the exercises on physicalisation elsewhere on the website.

Some random thoughts on what has emerged from the text as I look back on our work so far:

  • Marlowe is a natural born subvert. It is, after all, a play whose central relationship is between a man born “base of stock” and a fallen angel. Knowing your place in the world – or actually, not knowing your place in the world – or knowing your place but being malcontented is fundamental to the action. Of course, Marlowe was a bright scholarship boy too…..
  • Every scene reveals some aspect of this interest in power and status. Wagner - who is far brighter, if less educated than the scholars - wants a servant because he is one. Robin too.
  • Look at the difference between what Faustus says he wants to do with unlimited power before he summons Mephistopheles (in Act 1 Scene 1) and after he has summoned Mephistopheles (in Act 1 Scene 3) The difference between “When I’m prime minister” and “Now that I am prime minister”…?
  • Close scrutiny of the text always reveals inconsistencies. Plot Robin’s narrative arc, for instance, to see what I mean. In the first scene he is unemployed. When we see him with Rafe, he has been working for their mutual master and mistress for some time, while also being close enough to Wagner and Faustus to pick up a little Latin and steal a book of spells. To call the play “loosely plotted” only just begins to describe it! However, the structure of the narrative and juxtaposition of scenes makes emotional and rhythmic sense.
  • The Spanish Armada was 1588. Doctor Faustus probably first performed shortly thereafter. Therefore, for the original audience, the moment at the start of Act 3 when Mephistopheles announces that he has transported them to the Pope’s inner chamber is rather like a play written in the months after 9/11 setting a scene in Bin Laden’s cave ….

Sunday, 6 December 2009


Music has always been a major part of the Present Moment approach. Our first production, The Country Wife, began with Everyday Should Be A Holiday by the Dandy Warhols because, for the characters in the play, every day was. Plus the hedonistic, arrogant rush perfectly suited the mood of the piece and set the scene for what was to follow. Of course it wasn’t from the period the play was written. That’s the point. Decide the atmosphere you want to create then find the music that fits. So there will be no crumhorns and viols and tambours in the Present Moment Doctor Faustus. Claustrophobic and edgy and ominous. That's what we want to evoke. For that reason I listened to a lot of music from horror films and mysteries, paying particularly attention to how such films – and sci fi – use music to punctuate and underscore. Currently I find myself playing a lot of Burial, Future Sounds of London and the kind of epic washes of electronic sound that Tangerine Dream were creating in the mid 1970s.

Performing plays as if they were written yesterday

The Time Out review of our 2nd production, The Revenger’s Tragedy began “Present Moment take plays written centuries ago and perform them as if they were written yesterday”. Which was fantastic because it captures the essence of the brand (to borrow from advertising-speak). So how do we do that?

We don’t change the language (although we have been known to edit). We don’t dress everyone in early 21st century fashion. . But we do try to find a context in which the play comes to life. Because you have to create a world in which the action of the drama makes sense. And to build a bridge from our world to that world.

Elsewhere on this web site you can see me talking about inspiration and starting points. You may not know where an idea comes from. I often don’t, at first. The process works backwards. So it took me a while to realise that the notion of Mephistopheles first appearance evoking Arnie’s first appearance in The Terminator is – apart from being very dramatic – is because of the effect that Mephistopheles has on Faustus world and the action of the play, in the same way that the Terminator effects Sarah Connor’s world. (Mind you, Faustus isn’t Sarah Connor – she’s far more practical. And she can sprint. Faustus isn’t comfortable in his body. He lives in his head.

When you’re looking for ways to contextualise and interpret a piece, ask yourself what the place you’re performing suggests. Stratford Circus is a modern space. There’s wood, but there’s metal. It’s in a neighbourhood that is being rebuilt and revealed and transformed (the Olympic site is just across the road). All that has, I begin to realise, informed our interpretation.

Before and during rehearsals keep asking, “Who is this person like? What does this scene remind me of? What’s the equivalent today?” So – in no particular order:

  • I’m playing with the idea of Valdes and Cornelius as undertakers. That’s partly because, for me, Faustus’ study is a state of mind as well as an actual place. I want him out of there. It’s also a practical decision – if you’re a necromancer, you need access to dead bodies. Who has access to dead bodies? Undertakers!
  • What happens to people, like Robin and Rafe, with no money and big dreams when they strike it lucky? Maybe their second scene is like a moment from MTV cribs
  • The Emperor reminds me of some spoilt rich kid, needing a new thrill, like someone off Gossip Girl. (Hmm. Maybe I watch too much trashy TV)
  • Faustus wouldn’t have done normal kid things. He’d have been indoors, learning calculus and Latin. So Mephistopheles becomes the best mate he never had. And what a relief it must be to hang out with and talk to someone as clever as he is.
The process is about honouring the original and its spirit while finding what's there that the audience can recognise and connect with. Creating clarity. That's the point of interpretation.

Friday, 4 December 2009

The Casting Process

The play is cast and we start rehearsals on Monday which, after months of planning, is very exciting. I have been asked how I go about casting. So here goes.

The first thing is to find people that I want to work with and who want to work with me. Nobody gets rich making theatre, so we have to hope that it enriches us in other, non-financial ways. The chemistry has to be right. People have to want to go on the journey. Rehearsals can and should be fun and playful but they can also be stressful and exhausting and demanding and require people who are team players. (Note to budding directors: Some actors, as part of their creative process, need to make the director the enemy. Some need to be bullied. Avoid these types!)

Second, I look for people who have been trained and – for this production – have some experience of acting in Elizabethan and Jacobean plays. There are a lot of bad classical acting clich├ęs – indeed, I usually do an exercise early in the process so we can get them out into the open and out of the way – but it helps if people are not terrified of iambic pentameter. It also helps if people don't go into that weird "I'm making a speech" tone of voice and are able to make the language, however heightened and obscure, sound like words actual people might really say!

Third – in the case of this play – I wanted people who could play multiple roles and had good physical skills. All the actors apart from those playing Faustus and Mephistopheles play several roles so I wanted people who were versatile.

To discover who met the 2nd and 3rd criteria, I asked actors to prepare a 2-minute classical speech for their first, one to one audition. I also had a selection of speeches from the play (Robin, Valdes, Emperor and Lucifer) so I could pick one that contrasted with their own speech and give them a few minutes to prepare it. Actors that were recalled were those who showed me a range, as well as an ability to create a recognisable character very quickly. Why? Look at the script. See how many characters appear in a single scene or a couple of scenes. That’s why.

The recall workshop lasted 3 hours and involved a lot of movement work – the concept behind the production requires physically skilled actors who can transform and work in abstract ways as well as handling Marlowe’s text and creating convincing characters.

With this production, we ring fenced 5 parts for people who had completed training in the last year or so. Partly this is practical: there are bits and pieces of funding available for “emerging artists”. Partly, it’s a good thing in and of itself and it’s what Present Moment do: give people opportunities.

Giving people opportunities is why there is also an ensemble of acting interns – young people on BTEC courses, in training, on gap years, looking for some experience before applying for Drama school. They’ll get some additional training and support as part of the rehearsal process (voice classes, movement classes). And they’re a vital part of the concept of the show – on stage most of the time.