I'm Anita Presheka, the author of the chapter on Dr Faustus for AA100, and I’m here with Nadia Molinari, who’s the producer and director of the BBC Radio production of Dr Faustus. So Nadia, what were some of the main challenges that you encountered in transferring the play, translating this play, which was, of course, written for the stage?
Well there are several challenges. There are several scenes which have a kind of visual comedy element and some scenes are easier to translate to radio than others. Some of the scenes which are easy are scenes like the scene with the Knight and the Emperor, most of the information about the visual comedy is actually within the text. Now the ones that are slightly harder are Act III Scene 2, which is a scene with Robin and Ralph and the vintner in the inn. On stage it’s a traditional juggling act scene really, where they’re juggling with this goblet, on radio that’s quite tricky to do. The sound of juggling is actually very quiet, we discovered, so the only thing you hear is the sound of metal as it hits somebody’s hand and that can be confusing for a listener.
We decided that one line that we had to add was just to clarify in the scene that they’re holding a goblet because the line as it stands is, “Our horses shall eat no hay as long as this lasts”, now the ‘this’ could mean anything, so we had to add goblet there. And then later, again, as they were throwing the goblet between one person and the other, we just had to add a “look to the goblet Robin” to allow the audience to understand that the goblet is being thrown from Ralph to Robin. The other scene that we didn’t add anything to, and I’ll leave it to you to work out how successful it is on radio, is when Faustus loses his leg. Now, again, on stage that’s a really hilarious visual comedy moment where, by amazing trickery, it’s a magic trick where suddenly Faustus’ leg comes off and the horse courser is holding his leg and Faustus has no leg. Amazing visual moment, on radio how do you create that? So there’s an awful lot of yelling, “My leg, my leg, my leg”, by Faustus as in the text, and the horse courser is horrified by what he’s done. We decided not to add an extra line in there because we felt that it was the aftermath that was important in telling us what was going on.
So the visual comedy’s one thing. The asides, which do relate to the visual comedy sometimes, that’s also quite tricky on radio because the way to do that is you come closer into the mike so that you talk to the listener, so you’re very close in, as if it’s a kind of internal thought. That works well with some characters but not with others. It works very, very well with characters like Mephistopheles, for example, we’re really with him, we really know him, we understand him, and by allowing ourselves into his thoughts it brings us closer to him. What’s great about the asides with Mephistopheles is that we really need to be with him at certain points. When Faustus, after he’s signed away his soul he has a fear that he shouldn’t be doing this, and we really want to be with Mephistopheles at that moment because we want to view Faustus from his perspective. And there’s a great line, and it’s an aside as we play it, which is “I’ll fetch him somewhat to delight his mind”, and it leads us straight into the devil dance, a very visual moment.
The asides that were trickier were, for example, the asides that the Knight has in the scene with Faustus, so we made them quite open asides. So he doesn’t come close into the mike, he just does them kind of like stage asides really. So we’re really always with Faustus. One of the best things about translating this play to radio was the Devils, just so exciting to be able to create these great gothic sounds of hell and fantastic breathing that sounds very much like it’s from the dark side. In some ways it sounds quite filmic.
The devils, of course, are one of the vestiges of the play’s roots in the morality play tradition, and this brings us to an interesting aspect of Dr Faustus and one of the reasons why it’s such a complex piece of drama that, is it a morality play or is it a tragedy, and I wondered how you felt about that in adapting the play, what kind of overall interpretation were you aiming for?
Well we, of course, talked about how we should interpret this play. I mean that’s the wonderful thing about Radio 3 working with the Open University is that we have the benefit of all that wealth of research that you have done already with this play, and it was really invaluable for me to have those discussions with you and to understand your perspective on the play and to allow that to influence the way that I produced it. And so I was very excited about not playing it as a morality play, thinking about it as a tragedy and creating this very rounded character. Now when you actually come to be working on the sound of it, what’s very hard to get away from is the reality of hell. The sounds are necessarily dreadful and by the end, I imagine, pretty horrific.
Also because when Faustus delivers lines like “I think hell’s a fable”, we’ve kind of created this hell through the way that the sounds support the Devils, and at that point it’s very difficult not to judge Faustus because we don’t think hell’s a fable, we’re trying to create the illusion that it’s real for our listeners, that’s the thing they have to buy into otherwise the play doesn’t work. I owe a lot of it to the actor playing Faustus, who is Paterson Joseph, played the character with such complexity of thought that you cannot simply see that man in the light of a morality play, he’s too fully rounded. It’s obviously within the text and within the way that Marlowe has written it, but it’s also within the interpretation that the actor’s given it.
What about Ray Fearon playing Mephistopheles, what qualities do you think he brought to his role and especially to the interaction between Mephistopheles and Faustus?
Ray’s Mephistopheles has this very low bassy quality about it, and he really thought about the long vowel sounds that he has, the very steady kind of rhythm that he speaks in. And Paterson, who played Faustus, thought very much about the volatile nature of this character and the way that his lines just move from the dreaded thoughts of hell to the excitement that he feels about what he’s going to experience now that he has this power. He had an incredible sense of play in the way that he used his voice and the way that he interpreted the text, and that works so well with the anchor of Mephistopheles’ voice, of this much deeper-toned, steadier pace of voice. So it works very well as a double act, I think, and even when they’re having a lot of fun Faustus takes on some of Mephistopheles’ energy towards the end, so he’s been having a lot of fun but then he realises the emptiness and the hollowness of that fun.
Yes, he does doesn’t he.
And that comes together very well; the two voices at that point, the kind of weariness of Faustus towards the end is quite a mirror to Mephistopheles’ weariness at the beginning.
Anita Pacheco: There’s one more important double act in the play, of course, the good and bad angel, and here you made a very interesting casting decision to have them both played by female actors. I wondered if you could explain to us a bit about that decision?
In a play like this which has so many male voices, for our radio listeners that’s quite tough, to hear that many male voices and distinguish one from the other all the way through, and I really was feeling the lack of female voices, just from an audio perspective, the palette of sound was limited. So I went through the play really in detail and started thinking which of these characters could be played by women, maybe the comic characters, but even then they have so many sexual jokes. Then I thought about the scholars, again, they can’t because of the world that they’re in and it’s a very male world, and then I looked at the angels and thought they’re angels, they can be played by anyone. So I at that point decided that they should be women and that not only one of them should be women, but both.
Okay, thanks very much.