Tuesday 26 April 2016

Doctor Faustus - Review

Duke of York’s Theatre, London


Written by Christopher Marlowe and Colin Teevan
Directed by Jamie Lloyd

Jenna Russell and Kit Harington

Christopher Marlowe’s story of Dr Faustus is well-known. The scholar no longer able to find interest in the traditional fields of knowledge (law, religion and medicine) who delves deep into the dark arts and to make a pact with the Devil, selling his soul in exchange for 24 years of godlike powers. 24 years of fame and success followed by eternal damnation. 

Black and existential in its original form, here Marlowe's play is given a more cynically contemporary twist as Colin Teevan introduces new texts that connect today’s transient and trashy pop culture with the moral vacuum Faust makes for himself. 

The result is  fascinating, disturbing and at the same time farcically ironic, like a delirious post-hangover nightmare. The barely-dressed actors inhabit Soutra Gilmour’s stage as already-damned souls, occasionally with an unbearable tension much like the slow-motion protagonists of a Bill Viola video, at other times simply with aggressive violence.

Kit Harington plays a young Faustus, in possession of both human frailty and ingenuity. His pact with Lucifer however is firmly set in the 21st century, with our anti-hero seeking TV celebrity rather than the traditional order of regular superpowers. No longer a scholar, he becomes a magician like David Copperfield or Dynamo, desperate for popularity. Faustus’ longing for a show in Vegas reveals the height of his ambition: we're not in 1592 anymore and people’s deepest desires have changed. 

Harington, albeit looking more comfortable delivering the modern sections by Teevan than the originals, convinces as the easily-duped Faustus. The real strengths of this production however lie with Jenna Russell’s Mephistopheles and Forbes Masson as Lucifer. Russell’s performance is magnificent, part demonic seductress and part talent agent. Her ability to convey the suffocating love/hate relationship with Faustus – Who is really the master, who the servant? – is outstanding. In her nightgown, with her short hair, Russell remains the powerful central focus of her scenes and don't linger too long in the bar either - her on-stage singing towards the end of the interval is an infernally ingenious treat.

Masson shines as a sardonic and auto-ironic Lucifer, dangerously mellifluous more than straightforwardly intimidating and a nod too to Tom Edden for his representation of the seven deadly sins. Helped by Jon Clark’s lighting, his is a spectacular transformation through the sins. 

It certainly makes for a stimulating night at the theatre. Lloyd and Gilmour have a well-established partnership that leads to stunning visuals, usually supported by outstanding performances. Russell is fabulous, Harington’s Faustus is likely to be best enjoyed by his fans.  

Runs until June 25th.
Reviewed by Simona Negretto
Photo credit: Marc Brenner

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