Bolton hosts gender-blind anniversary show

Bolton School produces Doctor Faustus, a play almost 500 years old, to celebrate their 500th anniversary

Discussions about staging Doctor Faustus began in 2014, as the school considered what to perform as part of their anniversary celebrations.

The production was ‘gender-blind’ in order to accommodate boys and girls – including a female Doctor Faustus. In the show’s programme, teacher Ms. Lord says: “A gender-blind policy was used to cast this production; the vast majority of characters in Dr Faustus are male on paper and without a gender-blind approach, it would not have been appropriate to stage Dr Faustus as a Senior Joint Production. In auditions, the self-possession of our lead, Natasha Bagnall, made the choice to ‘re-gender’ Faustus an obvious one.”

Beginning as a brilliant and arrogant academic, the audience watched Doctor Faustus’ gleeful use of her newfound powers slowly develop into torment and doubt as her twenty-four years run out.

Student Iman Orths provided the vocals for two musical numbers. The first, Björk’s ‘Cosmology’, came at the opening of the play: Later, as Helen of Troy, she sang ‘Seven Devils’ by Florence and the Machine accompanied by a chorus of cast members and live percussion.

An original music track named ‘Musica Universalis’ was created by students using improvisation and digital processing following a recording session in the Jack Lyons Concert Hall and Trevor Jones Studio at the University of York. Pupils also created three more pieces – ‘Spiral’, ‘Summoning’ and ‘Damned’ – for the production. Live percussion was added during the performance to push the engagement of a live show.

Costumes from The Royal Exchange Theatre’s were used in the production, submerging the audience in the period and casting Faustus as a Renaissance scholar.

During the interval, the audience was invited to the Riley Centre for refreshments and to enjoy an exhibition of artwork inspired by Dr Faustus. This was arranged by the Arts Council and also featured a short film, an example of rotoscoping, which was created collaboratively by boys in years seven and eight. 

Interval entertainment came in the form of ‘science as magic’. Boys changed the colours of liquids, levitated cards, made the words written on a note disappear and reappear, and repaired a broken test tube, all apparently by magic, and following their amazing displays with scientific explanations. Teacher Mr Teasdale came up with the idea for this fascinating addition to the evening, and said: “Knowledge and magic are strong themes within the play. I saw an opportunity to break down barriers between arts and science. The aim was to amaze and educate the audience about the scientific principles behind the tricks.”

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