sat 20/07/2024

Doctor Faustus, Duke of York's Theatre | reviews, news & interviews

Doctor Faustus, Duke of York's Theatre

Doctor Faustus, Duke of York's Theatre

Jamie Lloyd's contemporary take is crowded, lurid and weightless

Log on and sell out: Kit Harington's Faustus seeks knowledgeMarc Brenner

Blood, sexual violence, power games and lashings of nudity. Not Game of Thrones, whose new season has just premiered (yes, he’s really dead. Well, for now) – and whose shadow Kit Harington is trying to escape – but Jamie Lloyd’s graphic take on Marlowe. It’s a production determined to hold your attention, and, thanks to its comic carnival of excess, largely successful in that pursuit.

However, like the magic tricks bestowed on its soul-selling protagonist, it’s rather more flash than substance.

This is iFaustus, with an up-to-the-minute version of the play’s contested middle section from Colin Teevan and a parade of 21st-century references. Instead of a zealous scholar, Harington’s hoodie-wearing millennial is a screen junkie, introduced with toothbrush hanging from his slack jaw as he stares at the TV, and easily seduced by the instant celebrity offered by Jenna Russell’s Mephistopheles. As a rock star magician, he headlines Vegas, spars with Pope Francis, summons Lincoln for Obama (rather than Alexander the Great for Emperor Charles V), provokes the CIA, and – in particularly clunky satire – encounters modern monsters who would rather make a deal with the devil than pay tax or give to charity: bankers, media moguls, David Cameron. (Kit Harington pictured below with Craig Stein and Tom Edden.)

Doctor Faustus, Duke of York's TheatreMarlowe’s play is a tricky undertaking in our secular information age. What does it mean to sell your soul, and why purchase limitless knowledge when you have the internet? The glow of an Apple laptop heralds temptation – the fruit of that forbidden tree, perhaps – but Lloyd’s contemporary parable is too cluttered to develop a coherent through-line. A film clip of David Copperfield, who explains magic was a means of escaping isolation and insecurity, suggests Faustus may be similarly unfulfilled by hollow modern life, but the production’s vague pre-pact portrait and relentless speed means his choices lack weight.

This Faustus is less concerned with loss of redemption than loss of romance with loyal assistant Wagner (Jade Anouka), realising too late that being adored by millions doesn’t compare with truly loving one. There’s a suggested religious dimension to this undercooked love story and clichéd fame-doesn’t-equal-happiness sentiment – Wagner’s first name is Grace – but nothing as incisive as Marlowe’s pioneering theological exploration. Prevailing wisdom largely goes unchallenged, with Lloyd having his cake and eating it when it comes to sexed-up celebrity culture: criticising its shallowness while capitalising on his buff leads star power.

Harington fares best in Teevan’s prose sections, his verse-speaking clear but too unvaried, and commits admirably – those dying to see Jon Snow’s bare buttocks dancing a merry jig will come away happy. But he more convincingly conveys the physical effects of Faustus’s 24-year excess than his spiritual and existential crisis, outclassed in the latter by Russell’s fallen angel (pictured below with Harington). Weary, matter-of-fact, trudging around in her voluminous nightie, she’s tormented by the absence of hope: “All places shall be hell that are not heaven.” Her path to eternal damnation began with the loss of a loved one – how could God’s plan contain so much pain? – and she relives that agony as she guides Faustus to his terrible fate.Doctor Faustus, Duke of York's TheatreForbes Masson’s Scottish Lucifer is a nasty menace in vest and pants (apparently there are no clothes in the afterlife), Craig Stein’s evil angel is a malevolent harlot, Anouka provides an appealing Wagner and traumatised Helen of Troy, and Tom Edden brilliantly imbues each of the Seven Deadly Sins with a distinct character. Soutra Gilmour’s suburban flat opening up into a soundstage echoes Faustus’s empty illusions, but the pun-tastic music choices weary, and Ben and Max Ringham’s score competes too much with the actors’ delivery, as does Polly Bennett’s thrashing abstract movement.

There are vivid moments, from chairs leaping apart as if controlled by a poltergeist to striking tableaux and surprise interval karaoke (hurry back for Russell’s operatic Meatloaf – the devil really does have all the best tunes), but the piling on of gags, gore, bodily fluids and brash cartoon becomes a series of diminishing returns. Despite the horror film shocks and liberal blood budget, it’s never really scary, nor as tragic as it should be. Commendably accessible, but verging on soulless.


Those dying to see Jon Snow’s bare buttocks dancing a merry jig will come away happy


Editor Rating: 
Average: 2 (1 vote)

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