While Doctor Faustus may be one of Christopher Marlowe’s most daring plays, Jamie Lloyd has taken this to a new level with his bold and mischievous adaptation of the Renaissance classic. In the first five minutes you think you know what he’s going for: a gritty modern version perhaps replacing magic with the wonders of the internet. However, you soon realise that this is not really the case: the play starts with close loyalty to the text, focusing on the temptations of conjuring and the dark arts. Doctor Faustus (played by Kit Harrington, probably one of the main selling points of the play) sells his soul to the devil and spends twenty-four years roaming the world with Mephistopheles. The play moves seamlessly between the work of Christopher Marlowe and the playwright Colin Teevan, Teevan’s additions adding a highly comic satire on the world of fame and celebrity in today’s society. As Faustus’ celebrity life style descends from impressing audiences in Vegas through to Ibiza, Milton Keynes, and finally Bognor Regis, we are given an amusing insight into the temporary nature of fame. No matter how impressive you are, the public are fickle and will soon move on.
This is a play that doesn’t take itself too seriously. At the same time it also manages to send a powerful message about the terrible temptations of selling your soul for money, power, and fame. The final damning of Faustus for eternity is genuinely moving, with Kit Harrington succeeding in delivering an impressive performance that combines a natural comic style with a believable sense of the tragic. The director has taken some big risks with the play and there are moments when it almost descends into farce. Lloyd avoids this with a self-conscious playfulness, for example taking the Renaissance masque used by Marlowe and turning it into impishly bizarre dances by the scantily dressed chorus. Polly Bennett’s choreography is tongue in cheek and it really does work. However, some of the grotesqueness of the direction seems more of an attempt to shock than have artistic merit. Bodily fluids, rape, violence, masturbation, complete nudity… while these are becoming more and more common during a trip to the theatre, that doesn’t mean they are always needed. I take a very different attitude to Harrington’s costume (or lack of) choices: Lloyd has played heavily on his star actor’s fame and good looks and I am pretty sure no one is complaining there.
There are plenty of excellent performances. Jade Anouka performs Wagner with touching honesty and sincerity, and Jenna Russell as Mephistopheles is truly exciting. There is great chemistry between her and Harrington; this decision to make their relationship a sexualised one is clever. Tom Edden is bursting with energy: his performance of the seven deadly sins is a masterpiece of comic acting and his role as the Duchess demanding grapes/caviar from across the world is packed with physical humour.
Set in an ordinary flat and then moving swiftly between the back stages of theatres across the world, Southra Gilmour’s design reminds us of the messiness of fame and fortune: the glamour is always temporary. This is not a production for the squeamish or delicate: expect fluids oozing out of the actors’ mouths, blood dripping down foreheads, full frontal nudity, and a lot of groping. Also expect an excellent performance from every actor and an exciting new look at this famous play.
- By Christopher Marlowe and Colin Teevan
- Directed by Jamie Lloyd
- Cast includes: Jenna Russell, Jade Anouka, Tom Edden, Danielle Flett, Brian Gilligan, Kit Harington
- Duke of York Theatre, London
- Booking until 25 June 2016
- Review by Lucy Ashe
- 21 April 2016