Adapting Christopher Marlowe's 'Doctor Faustus' for a Post-Theistic Age

In this interview, Directors Atlanta Hatch and Lottie Reeder explain the thinking behind their exciting new adaptation of Marlowe's 'Doctor Faustus', which opens at the Corpus Playroom next week.

What led you to intertwine Doctor Faustus with the modern concept of visual reality?

[Atlanta]: Having both studied the play [Atlanta and Lottie are both English students], we really loved unpicking the language, tracing Marlowe’s message through the unfolding plot. As we studied the play in its original context -a time in which believing in magic and fearing damnation was widespread- when Faustus conjures up the devil on stage the audience really thought they were seeing the devil. Of course, with the changing times, we can no longer play on the fear or uncertainty surrounding damnation, so we chose a more modern though not completely dissimilar topic: virtual reality. Strangely, it plays on similar topics of what is real and what is imagined, and its novelty causes a certain mystery- we don’t yet know the future and the limits of VR.

[Lottie]: I think that, for me, really shows when a play or a book is a classic. It is such a fascinating story in its own historical context: it is true to its time, it was relevant and intriguing in its day, and yet it can be taken out of its time and can be merged together with such a modern concept as VR quite effortlessly. One thing I have found surprising is that during the process, we have never felt as if we have had to yoke the play into the modern day, prompting the unnerving sense that Marlowe could foresee that these issues would still be relevant in such a different context.


How have you worked the play into the modern-day context?

[Atlanta]: We both agreed at the start of the process that we were happy to sacrifice some elements of the original play, so long as we remained faithful to how Marlowe intended the audience to experience it. As I mentioned before, the audience were meant to feel unnerved, in awe, whilst also exhilarated and excited. We wanted to convey this sense of chaos and craziness through the physicality of the play: the seven deadly sins are depicted through dance, spiralling into a whirlwind of movement, which we hope will create quite an impression on the audience!


How have you found producing and directing a play you have already encountered in studying it?

[Lottie]: Having meticulously analysed Doctor Faustus, it has been really useful in unpicking the meaning of the script with the actors so that they can truly convey the significance of the words, as opposed to regurgitating senseless lines, which I think can sometimes happen in productions of classics like those of Marlowe and his contemporaries. On another note, it has been so lovely to bring Doctor Faustus to life- it is so much funnier when I see it performed than it was when I read it for my degree! It is also interesting to see that whilst we have analysed it, you don’t actually need to in order to understand it- it just seems to unfold before you as an audience member.

[Atlanta]: And quite aside from studying it, it’s so surreal to take a work of Marlowe's, who is an alumni of Corpus Christi, produce it under The Fletcher Players, a Corpus Christi society, and to perform it in the Corpus Playroom!


Do you hope to convey any particular messages about virtual reality through your production of Doctor Faustus?

[Atlanta]: One of my aims for the play was rather to investigate the possibilities for virtual reality in the future: it is such a new concept that I don’t have any solidified conclusions on it as a topic. So, I suppose we want to pose the concept to the audience, presenting a commentary, which they can then consider personally and draw their own conclusions.

[Lottie]: Yeah, I think if I were to categorise it, I’d call it ‘speculative fiction’. There are no definitive answers which I guess is fun because two audience members could interpret it in entirely different ways!


Doctor Faustus runs at the Corpus Playroom from Tuesday 21 to Saturday 25 May at 7pm. Book your tickets here!