This year I entered The Stage’s critic search, and decided to write about a show I hadn’t already reviewed. I went to the second preview of Jamie Lloyd’s Doctor Faustus and it was an, erm, interesting experience… I enjoyed the show more than I thought I would (I think my expectations were pretty low, if I’m honest) – I’m glad I experienced it, though mostly to satisfy my curiosity. There was a strict 250-word limit on the review, so pretty brief in comparison to my usual!
Dr Faustus is the ultimate moral tale: a man desperate for fame and glory, regardless of the consequences. This version of the play premièred at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in 2013 – it starts and ends with Marlowe’s words, sandwiching modern-day text written by Colin Teevan. The themes remain compellingly relevant, but setting it in the present (in conjunction with Teevan’s scenes) makes it more accessible for a wider audience. It injects pace and comedy, though it’s unclear why the love story between Faustus and Wagner needs to be played for laughs.
In true Jamie Lloyd style, it is loud, brash and crude, including the occasional spray of bodily fluids. The lighting is stark, and the set fairly minimal. In fact, there is no backdrop to the stage, meaning the whole area is visible; its darkness is bleak yet functional. The demons are more resemblant of zombies, and are intimidating within the small space.
Kit Harington is occasionally brilliant in the title role, showing glimpses of Faustus’ tortured genius and proving himself to be a capable comic actor. However, by making him shower in just his pants, diminishes the merits of his performance – suggesting he was cast as a bit of eye candy. Forbes Masson menaces as a Glaswegian Lucifer, but Jenna Russell shines in the role of Mephistopheles; darkly humorous and manipulative to the extreme. It is interesting to cast a woman in this traditionally male role, however there is a distinct feel of ‘the original sin’ to it.
My verdict? Lloyd’s production is relevant, entertaining and fast-paced; it threatens to shock but falls a bit short.
Doctor Faustus ran at the Duke of York’s Theatre between 9 April and 25 June 2016.