One Word: CHAOTIC
Very mixed reviews had preceded my visit to the Duke of York’s Theatre to see the new Jamie Lloyd Company production of Christopher Marlowe’s classic 16th Century text DR FAUSTUS, and I was very intrigued to see what all the fuss, or lack of, was about. In the West End’s latest star driven production, which sees Kit Harington return to the London stage during the height of his Game of Thrones fame, rising star Director Jamie Lloyd combines an interesting mix of ye olde Elizabethan world aspects with our modern celebrity obsessed society to create an up-to-date twist on Marlowe’s original text, with added modern text by Colin Teevan, about an ambitious academic who sells his soul to the Devil for 24 years of limitless magical power. Set in the modern day apartment of Faustus (Harington), complete with an Apple Macbook, at first this mix of Elizabethan language and 21st century setting is quite jarring and confusing to the audience, which is only doubled when suddenly Teevan’s modern day English is being spoken once Faustus’ fateful 24 years begins. However this quick change, and resulting change back as Faustus’ 24 years comes to an end with Mephistopheles’ (Jenna Russell) direction “It is time to go back”, could be seen to show the passing of time in what appears to be a dreamlike/hallucinogenic world, although this evaluation is very much self created.
During his 24 years of power, Faustus goes on a journey into the celebrity world (funnily enough, something Harington has himself recently experienced) as a famous magician, who is also an amazing air guitarist, and performs for, and mocks, popular cultural figures such as President Barack Obama, the CIA (or is it FBI) and the Pope. But all of this doesn’t fulfil the despairing Faustus who longs for the facets of life he willingly signed away to the Devil, such as the ability to love and be loved, when he particularly yearns for his assistant Wagner (Jade Anouka).
As a production, this version of DR FAUSTUS is certainly one of the more ‘out there’ offerings and is perhaps not a show that all audience members would understand or enjoy, particularly the older generation. However it certainly has a similar style to other Jamie Lloyd productions with it’s feeling of Youth Culture. It is definitely not one that you’d take a school group to though, which is strange as Jamie Lloyd has been championing the creation of new, young audiences with previous work. There is one prominent questionable artistic choice, which was the requirement for two actors playing the magicians Valdes and Cornelius to be completely naked at the front of the stage very soon into the first act, but if you think beyond the physical nudity and look into the potential deeper meanings in the story then you could get the sense that nudity isn’t actually all that out of place in the psychedelic hell that is not bound to the physics of the ‘God’s creation’. Blood, gore and vomit also feature prominently, as well as one moment of ‘black truffles and caviar’ being produced from the anus of Lucifer, which really gives you an idea of the style and content of the entire piece. It’s all just slightly strange and chaotic, but this may be the way Teevan and Lloyd want to portray their image of Marlowe’s hell.
In terms of acting performance, Harington is the obvious star of the show in terms of billing and he does a very good job of creating a believable character in this odd hell of a world. The saying goes ‘If you got it, flaunt it’ and Lloyd certain makes the most of flaunting Harington’s ripped physique to add to the partial nudity count and certainly please a large number of the female and homosexual male members of the audience. Harington gives a solid performance as Faustus and shows a good range of straight and comedy skills and he can certainly be proud of his contribution to the piece.
Jenna Russell, however, steals the limelight with her witty and multi-layered Mephistopheles. She doesn’t shy away from some of the more ‘on the nose’ serious sexual content (not literally on the nose) and the lightness she brings to the piece through her comedy gives the performance an extra gear. Her audience interaction at the start of Act 2, where she sings 3 hell related pop songs including Meatloaf’s Bat Out of Hell, is a particular highlight.
Overall, the piece is rather confusing if you are looking for a deep meaning, but if you take it for what it is and just go with it then it’s kind of like The Rocky Horror Show where ridiculous just becomes acceptable and quite funny.
Date of performance: 02/05/16
Booking until 25th June 2016
Duke of York’s Theatre