It is an eternal question which many have posed over the years; “what would you sell your soul for?” and with this new version of the Christopher Marlowe classic Doctor Faustus, director Jamie Lloyd leaves the audience with this question while putting a definite 21st century spin on the tale.
Game of Thrones star Kit Harington plays the eponymous lead, who in order to gain everything he wants for 24 years calls upon Mephistopheles (played by Jenna Russell) who agrees to grant his wish in exchange for Faustus giving his soul to Lucifer (played by Forbes Masson) at the end of those 24 years. Of course Faustus agrees, and as the action races on, we and Faustus discover that perhaps your soul is worth more than gaining your heart’s desire.
Playwright Colin Teevan has written two acts that replace the “extant acts” of the original play, which many scholars believe were not penned by Marlowe. These acts are what truly makes Lloyd’s production feel thoroughly modern, we see that John Faustus has become the world’s best magician and we see that the curse of celebrity could definitely been seen as a true Faustian pact. These acts also gave the audience some truly funny moments including a trippy, camp dance number, and a blazing attack on people such as David Cameron, and other well known faces. By the end of the play the audience are truly left drained at the fall of Faustus and the realisation that he truly regretted his decision.
The staging is stark and gory; we see vomiting demons, lots of blood, and a moment with Forbes Masson’s Lucifer which left the entire audience groaning in disgust.
One of Jamie Lloyd’s strengths as a director is that he always assembles a strong ensemble round the leading actor and Doctor Faustus is no exception. Russell’s Mephistopheles is something different to the image many would be used to, but she delivers a powerful performance and shows the character as a multi dimensional being who warns Faustus that his decision may have massive repercussions. Masson’s Lucifer stood out for me, as he was snarling and demonic one moment, and then he becomes the charming tempter to show Faustus what he could have the next.
Harington was a revelation in the role of John Faustus, his stage presence was extraordinary and he dealt with the script and the staging with great aplomb; he was willing to be brave for the role which included being covered in blood wearing nothing more than a pair of pants. He was strongest when we saw Faustus at his most tormented with some of the quieter moments getting a little lost; the play’s final scenes were harrowing but Harington brought them to life in a way that made the audience feel less uncomfortable with what we were watching.
Doctor Faustus can feel like an assault on the senses with full frontal nudity, strobe lighting, and scenes of a sexual nature throughout, however it has to be said that the nudity and the sexual scenes are certainly not gratuitous or sensationalised.
Soutra Gilmour’s staging for the production was innovative and stark which fitted the style of the play Lloyd has created. I would be severely disappointed if Gilmour does not receive a number of nominations at next year’s theatre awards in London.
At times Doctor Faustus made uncomfortable viewing, however it shares a message that many people need to take heed of, and it is a definite must watch West End production.
Doctor Faustus is playing at London’s Duke of York’s Theatre until June 25.