So last Thursday I saw Dr Faustus, which was very well done, but definitely odd. To be fair, I have no idea what the play is supposed to be like, but I don't think it was supposed to be like this, with only three people - Faustus himself, a serious male angel in blue and gold, and a bewitching female Mephistopheles in black and grey, with other characters conjured up as necessary with the help of various props, usually in the unwilling form of the angel, giving an unsettling sense that none of it was real.
I was never very sure what Faustus had done it for, either - his first request was for scientific knowledge, but that didn't seem to go any further, and although he started off grieving, and conjured up his wife twice, in the form of the angel the first time, and of Mephistopheles herself - who after 24 years must more or less have *been* his wife - on the final night, most of their time between seemed to have been spent just playing tricks on people. In the end I was far more sorry for Mephistopheles, cut off from heaven, and slipping three times from the hand of the angel after Faustus was lost, than for Faustus, who seemed to have got himself damned on the principle of cutting off his nose to spite his face.
Macbeth last night was a more traditional production up to a point - there was a set, shaped a bit like castle turrets but furnished as a rough room with hospital bed and square sink and cradle, and there were entrances and exits, and although there were only 5 people in the cast they definitely took on different parts rather just taking on different forms within the play. And there were costume changes - Banquo (always female) had time to change completely from the soldiers' uniform to the ladies' 40s-style dresses to become Lady Macduff, while Duncan only had to change from the king's red jacket to the black of the others to become Macduff (a very Glaswegian Macduff, so that the announcement of Duncan's murder was slightly more Taggart than Shakespeare) - although the poor creature like a sad clown who provided witches, guards, doctors, sons and others as required stayed that way throughout, only adding a sash to become Malcolm.
Dr Faustus I knew nothing about except the basic premise, not even how it ended, but this I half knew, less from studying it at school (where I only remember someone announcing that they would to scone) than from cultural osmosis. Some parts were definitely familiar - I was waiting for the fell swoop - some lines I knew but didn't know they belonged to this, and some parts still surprised me - I had always thought that Lady Macbeth went gliding about the stage with a candlestick declaiming her lines in a stately manner, but here she came in almost hugging the light in a glass holder, and ended up sobbing, while Macbeth was really raging about the tale told by an idiot.
It seemed to me almost more a story of accident than of ambition, with the seeds of the Justified Sinner in there somewhere, along with something like a time-traveller's paradox - Macbeth would never have become king if he hadn't been told that he would be, but afterwards anything that kept him in his appointed position seemed not only right but natural to him. Yet it's not a warning against meddling with the supernatural - if anything, it's the supernatural that meddles with Macbeth. And if the point is that he would have become king in time anyway, then it hardly seems fair that he alone should be tempted in that way - but he does come to kill so worryingly easily, including, in this version, smothering his wife.