Theatre preview: Dr Faustus, West Yorkshire Playhouse

Kevin Trainor as Dr Faustus and Siobhan Redmond as Mephistopheles. Photo by Tim Morozzo
Kevin Trainor as Dr Faustus and Siobhan Redmond as Mephistopheles. Photo by Tim Morozzo
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The times they are a changing. You might not notice it, because the change is evolution, not revolution, but make no mistake, the West Yorkshire Playhouse will look very different this time next year.

The way that theatres schedule their seasons – some way in advance – meant that when James Brining took over as artistic director last year, much of what we would be seeing on stage this spring had already been decided. Dr Faustus is the first real indication of the sort of work theatre fans can expect now that the Leeds native is at the helm of the organisation.

Brining, a Cambridge graduate, grew up in Leeds, but has spent the last decade of his career as a theatre director working north of the border, in Scotland, where they do things a little bit differently.

Brining had some major successes when he was running Dundee Rep theatre. Running the Playhouse is the biggest job of his life and, half a year in, he’s clearly relishing every moment. He has also been, from day one, cagey about pinning his colours to the mast with any one particular production, insisting that it will only when we look back at the body of his work will we understand what he is trying to achieve at the Leeds theatre. However, Doctor Faustus is a collaboration with the Citizens Theatre in Glasgow, a theatre that has given birth to any number of theatre hits that push at the boundaries. It is the first time the two theatres have collaborated on a play and it is no coincidence that the Scottish company is in the building a few months after Brining returned from up North.

“It’s a part of the mix,” says Brining, a man who is happy to give much away, but won’t be pinned down.

“But clearly, yes, I know the work of the Citizens Theatre and I am really excited to see what people make of the work we create together.”

The work the Citizens and the Playhouse are putting together is one of the great – and greatly controversial – plays in the Western canon. Marlowe’s story of a man who makes a pact with the devil.

Colin Teevan is the celebrated playwright who brought Monkey to the Playhouse stage in 2008 and his original play How Many Miles to Basra? also appeared in Leeds. He has been given the mighty task of adapting Marlowe for this version and writing his own additional scenes for the play.

He says: “I have always loved working at the Playhouse whenever I have been here, Ian (Brown, the former artistic director) did some really lovely work at this theatre. I do get a sense that there is a feeling of a new audience to be developed in Leeds. Our Faustus is going to be out there. I hope it appeals to them.”

Doctor Faustus, West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds, Feb 23 to March 16. 0113 2137700.

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