Review: Doctor Faustus, Southwark Playhouse

Lazarus Theatre Company employ some vivid ensemble work in a charismatic if sometimes challenging take on Doctor Faustus at the Southwark Playhouse

“What means this show?”

Working off the basis that the hokey cokey is indeed a satanic ritual and boasting a mindmap wall that would make Carrie Mathison jealous (designed meticulously by Sorcha Corcoran), Lazarus Theatre Company’s vividly played new version of Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus is certainly a visual treat. Emphasising their ensemble-based ethos, Ricky Dukes’ adaptation pulls its influences from multiple points and disciplines, ensuring that it is no regular piece of classical theatre.

Truth be told, I’m not sure I’ve seen a Faustus that I’ve really loved – from the Globe to Kit Harington-starring West End productions to the Lyric Hammersmith, it’s a play that has never particularly resonated, maybe that’s my own deal with the Devil… And I’m also not sure that this production would be the one to win over any new fans, a slight tendency to atmospheric obtuseness doesn’t necessarily lend itself to particular narrative clarity (much as I loved the opening sequence). 


Much is clear though, it should be said. Jamie O’Neill’s academic John Faustus is tired of the world of learning as set out in his endless books, he longs for something more and finds it in the promise of dark magic. Summoning Lucifer’s assistant Mephistopheles, he strikes a deal for 24 years with all the knowledge in the world, the small price being his body and soul at the end of that period. And as we’re presented with tableaux of Faustus exploring his new-found potential, we’re left with the question ‘is it ever worth it?’.

Sequences include danses macabres, musical interludes and comic skits that cover planetary alignments, the Seven Deadly Sins and f*cking with the Pope. It is raucous, random, sometimes ridiculous, sometimes even revelatory and thus a bold and intoxicating mixture. Being so uncompromising has its risks but you gotta love a company going for a big swing like this. David Angland is mightily impressive as the cheekily charismatic Mephistopheles and Candis Butler Jones’ white-suited Lucifer also stands out but the power of the ensemble work is so strong here as it carries the day hellishly well.  

Running time: 95 minutes (without interval)
Photos: Charles Flint
Doctor Faustus is booking at Southwark Playhouse until 1st October

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