Review: Doctor Faustus, Duke of York’s Theatre

“The hot whore of celebrity”

Jon Snow is dead. Isn’t he? I suspect there’ll be a twist in the tail as far as the newly started sixth series of Game of Thrones is concerned but for the meantime, Kit Harington is alive and kicking his way through this raucous reinvention of Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus for The Jamie Lloyd Theatre Company. 

My 3 star review for Cheap Theatre Tickets can be read here. And my little preview piece from a couple of weeks ago is here.

As fans of Game of Thrones anxiously wait to discover if Jon Snow is alive or dead, the actor who plays him – Kit Harington – is certainly alive and kicking, playing the title role in this new version of Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus at the Duke of York’s Theatre. Part of the Jamie Lloyd Company’s avowed aim to reinvent the classic in an innovative and anarchic manner, this production goes so far as to remove the central acts, whose authorship is doubted, and replace them with new scenes written by Colin Teevan.

The result is a strikingly modern update that sees Faustus as a bedsit-dwelling nobody, who does a deal with the devil in exchange for the gift of black magic and more importantly, the celebrity that comes along with it. With the gleeful Mephistopheles at his side fulfilling his desires, Faustus becomes the man of the moment, a David Copperfield-like magician who uses his new-found skills to hob-nob with the rich and famous, even entertaining Barack Obama on his birthday by bringing Abraham Lincoln and Marilyn Monroe back to life.

It’s a heady combination of old and new that is certain to put the cat among the pigeons of Marlowe fanciers. But the point is that selling your soul doesn’t come cheap, whether the story has been written 400 years or 400 seconds ago, and director Jamie Lloyd shows us a descent into hell fit for any time. In the swirling blocks of Soutra Gilmour’s design and the stylised movement of Polly Bennett’s choreography for the undead ensemble who stalk Faustus’ every move, his moral decline is never in doubt but it is still shocking when the denouement comes.

In presenting a modern vacuous celebrity at the heart of a modern vacuous celebrity-obsessed world, the show does sometimes run the risk of being, well, modern and vacuous. It never looks less than marvellously slick, and fans of Harington will be pleased to note he spent a large proportion of the second act in his boxer shorts, but this version of play rarely engages emotionally. Despite a strong performance, Jade Anouka’s Wagner – Faustus’ putative love interest – isn’t given enough room to make the connections that might have really twanged the heartstrings.

There’s fun to be had with Jenna Russell’s malevolently playful Mephistopheles, Lucifer’s servant, helping Faustus to dig himself an even deeper, though her best moment comes in proving that the devil does indeed have the best tunes, with a post-interval medley that ranges from Kylie to Meatloaf. In the midst of it all, Harington is a game stage presence but rarely a truly compelling one. But in the kind of crazy world where the mysteries of life are held in a Mary Berry cookbook, it almost doesn’t matter. Strangely enjoyable. 

Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes (with interval)
Photo: Marc Brenner
Booking until 25th June

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