1965 Doctor Faustus Controversy

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DOCTOR FAUSTUS 1965 Controversy

“No Elizabethan play outside the Shakespeare canon has raised more controversy than Doctor Faustus.” [Logan and Smith 1973

As we anticipate its arrival in Glasgow (on 5 April) and look forward to seeing Glasgow audience’s reactions, we delved into the Citizens Archive and discovered a fascinating story about a version of Doctor Faustus that caused uproar in the Close Theatre in 1965. To our knowledge this was the last time the show was produced by the Citizens in the Gorbals.

Our co-production of Doctor Faustus opened at West Yorkshire Playhouse on 23 February 2013. This new version of the play replaces two of the original acts – which scholars debate may or may not have been written by Christopher Marlowe – with two brand new acts written by Colin Teevan.

Adapting or reinterpreting this play is not a new phenomenon. Director of the 1965 version Charles Marowitz said:

“in my view almost any liberty can be taken with an old play if it makes it more meaningful to a modern audience...no amount of ‘traditional’ or ‘faithful’ rendering can justify boredom, obscurity or lack of relevance. Antonin Artaud said that masterworks exist to be raped.” According to a 1965 preview in The Scotsman “Marowitz has assembled his adaptation from the two known versions of the play (1606 and 1616) as well as the Faustbuch, the prose narrative from which Marlowe drew his inspiration. Fragments from other plays of the same period and style have been inserted along with some lines and ‘happenings’ created by Marowitz.”

Doctor Faustus, 2013. Photos by Keith Pattinson

In the new production, Marlowe’s 400 year old narrative about a scholar's pact with the Devil is ruptured by new acts which are set in today’s celebrity-obsessed world, making Faustus relevant for a contemporary audience and reradicalising a play that has caused controversy since it was written at the end of the 16th century. 1

The writer goes on to say “…at the Close Theatre there is some apprehension about how the public will react to his experiment.”

In A History of Scottish Theatre, edited by Bill Findlay we read: “In this way a greater responsibility was placed on directors and committees of management.” The plot of Doctor Faustus includes the appearance of the seven deadly sins. Michael Grieve reported of the Close Theatre production in the Daily Record at the time: “Marowitz chose to depict the seven deadly sins as heads of state. President Johnston was gluttony, President de Gaulle was pride, Stalin was covetousness and the mask representing sloth was the Queen.” The actress playing the Queen was to speak in a voice irrefutably that of the current monarch, whilst wearing a mask and crown.

The Close Theatre

Until 1968 in Britain, the content of plays was censored by the Lord Chamberlain. This censorship created an extremely limiting environment for theatre-makers and it was as a direct result of this situation that theatre clubs (like the Traverse, Tron and Close) formed across the country to make way for a new wave of theatre writing. Due to the private nature of their membership, members could see uncensored and hence often much more exciting and challenging plays.

Despite having received warnings from the Close Theatre’s management committee that this insult to the Queen was unacceptable, opening night arrived and a matter of minutes before the show was due to start, in front of an audience of 150, with a cast of 16 poised to perform, an argument erupted. The Daily Express reported in their article 'Insult to the Queen Rumpus at Theatre': “four members of the club’s committee of

The 7 Deadly Sins - in 2013. Photo by Keith Pattinson


management announced that they had cancelled the performance and customers could get their money back...The announcement sparked shouts, protest and arguments among the audience. There were calls of support for the committee and counter-calls for a vote to see the play.” “Mr Marowitz, black-bearded and wearing a sheepskin jacket over his shoulders talked of his ‘artistic integrity’. ‘I am being censored by these four gentlemen, I refuse to allow the play to go on even with the slightest alteration’. Heckling and shouting that went on for half an hour almost drowned out the voices of the committee. In the middle of the uproar Ronald Singleton, son of George Singleton and a club member called out. ‘I have paid my money to see a show and I want to see it. I beg Mr Marowitz to compromise and let us see the rest of the play without the provocative scene.” ‘No’ said Marowtiz. Michael O’ Halloran, actor and STV announcer ‘I have seen nudes on the stage and heard four letter words but I have come here to see a play. Would Mr Marowitz not stand down?’ ‘No’.” Marowitz argued that the scene in question had grown from Marlowe's text and was an attempt to give contemporary relevance to a satirical scene. He proposed that his full

production should be allowed to run for one night and that if the audience decided that the scene was offensive, then he would remove it from all future performances. This was greeted by cheers from around half of the audience, but the committee were adamant that it was unacceptable. The Scotsman described the debacle: “Marowitz: 'this is a club theatre not subject to the censorship of the Lord Chamberlain and yet we have this downright censorship by four gentlemen.' Goldberg: ‘don’t use that word. We have no censorship here. But we have no right to offend people gratuitously. There were shouts of ‘sieg heil’ when (committee member) Mr Macrae said he would not sacrifice what little authority he had.” The Guardian said “To the casual onlooker the scene that followed was more gripping than most plays. The audience who felt that they rather than anybody else should be the judges of what was or was not a gratuitous insult took an active part in the debate. Opinions ranged from the vociferous aesthetic licence to a kilted gentleman who declared that those who had fought in two world wars, like himself, could not tolerate the queen being portrayed in this manner. After half an hour of inconclusive debate and fierce personal argument, the audience dispersed. The committee had had the last 3

word.” The resulting debate as reported within the press spanned a range of factual reporting and opinion such of that in the now defunct Evening Citizen newspaper: “It is fortunate that men of courage run Glasgow’s Close Theatre Club. If they had permitted last night’s performance to go on it would have involved a gross lampoon of the Queen. The director, Charles Marowitz' attempt to excuse a gratuitous insult to the throne by claiming ‘artistic integrity’ is nonsense. There is no integrity, artistic or otherwise, in throwing muck.” Despite being outraged by the censorship, in the end, rather than waste budgets and the three weeks of rehearsals that went into the production, Marowitz conceded to have sloth portrayed as Britannia, not the Queen. Although the monarch’s high voice, parodied so often, remained. This was deemed acceptable by the committee, with Goldberg commenting in The Stage “this is a representation of Britannia, and has no connection with the monarch. To represent the queen as sloth would be a slur, but to present Britannia is legitimate comment.” The 1965 controversy, albeit brief, is a fascinating one which raised issues of how much leeway writers or directors should have to interpret classic pieces of theatre. It highlights quite dramatically the changes

As a footnote, it seems there's no such thing as bad publicity: in an article entitled The Sick Sixties, after the furore, the Evening Times noted “I’m told that quite a number of new members joined the close theatre club so that they could see Dr Faustus”!

DOCTOR FAUSTUS CITIZENS THEATRE 5-27 APRIL 2013 Leave your comments and star ratings on citz.co.uk/whatson/info/doctor_faustus

The only archive photo of the 1965 production.

in what society deems acceptable satire and ponders the issue of censorship within a liberated theatrical environment.

twitter.com/citizenstheatre facebook.com/citizenstheatre or complete a feedback card in the foyer

Our new version of Doctor Faustus celebrates satire and brings a host of its own contemporary references. We hope you will come and see the production and add your voice to the debate afterwards.

Thanks to Jenny Knotts for access to research on The Close Theatre and the Scottish Theatre Archive.

Doctor Faustus, directed by Dominic Hill, 2013. Photos by Keith Pattinson


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