Where? Duke of York’s Theatre
When? Weds 20th April, 7.30pm
What better way to celebrate 400 years of Shakespeare than by seeing a show by his contemporary and rival playwright, Christopher Marlowe?
I studied this play for GCSE English what feels like 400 years ago now. I distinctly remember being more taken with it than Shakespeare at the time. Shakespeare was a slow burn for me.
But Faustus struck a chord right away – despite my teachers questionable interpretations (in my view). This is certainly not the classic interpretation that she would expect. I remember her trundling in the old TV and VCR and putting on a pretty straight, safe and ultimately uninspiring production.
Straight and safe are not words that can be used in Jamie Lloyd‘s production. He’s taken the surreal and amped it up to 11, as well as bringing the morality tale into a context relevant to a modern audience. In this production, Faustus makes his pact with the devil for fame in line with a celebrity obsessed culture, rather than the academic acclaim Faustus’s (Faustai?)of the past may have sought. Something to think about in itself – is this what we’ve actually become? I can’t help but feel a sense of irony here, in the fact that Kit Harington of Game of Thrones fame is pulling in the same celebrity obsessed clientele… For the greater good of course, but isn’t that what Faustus believed?
The set focuses on an adaptable room. Starting off as an apartment, with a bedroom down stage and kitchen up, later transforming into backstage area and hotel rooms. This allows fluidity and unobtrusive scene changing, often combined as part of the movement.
And Mr Harington? How does he fare outside of the role of the ever serious Jon Snow? Very well, in fact. His descent into the hedonistic world of renown and fame is a fast one but Harington shows the different stages distinctly, bouncing between indulgence and despair in the moment it takes to change a lighting state.
His performance is equalled by Jenna Russell‘s Mephistopheles. She slinks around the stage seductively, temptingly offering him a world he is almost powerless to resist and she makes it easy to see how he could fall.
The cast as an entity are superb – they move as separate parts of one singular body of temptation. It cannot be easy to dive into that dark, disorientating world every night; I left with a lingering feeling of disturbance after merely watching it. To me though, this is the sign of a good show – something that stays in my mind long after the curtain falls.
Jamie Lloyd said once in an interview with whatsonstage.com that it’s not enough for a show to be merely entertaining, that with a powerful tool such as theatre it should be used to change perspectives and make people think.
Though I don’t necessarily completely agree – one should be able to merely enjoy a vacuous, fluffy few hours of feelgood if that’s what they want – Lloyd has managed to create something both entertaining and deeply thought provoking, though at times – dare I say? – a little like something I’d expect to see at a drama school showcase – for instance, I didn’t understand the significance of the nudity (I speculated on symbolism of purity but the characters don’t seem particularly pure even at that point). It seemed like a superfluous theatrical device, for shock and spectacle, more than making a statement.
The script has been adapted by Colin Teevan but still includes chunks of the original work. It’s meshed together so you barely notice the transition between the old language and new, it feels very natural and effective, tying two very different times together.
This is the inspiring, relevant production I’d have liked to have seen all those years ago. My brain felt heavy with the weight of the dark themes as I left, yet I felt a pull to return and watch it all over again. Temptation maybe?