Review: Doctor Faustus at Duke of York’s Theatre

Dark, twisted, intense. The Jamie Lloyd Company’s production of Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus has taken over London’s Duke of York’s Theatre for three months and is doing so in the strangest yet most fantastical of ways.

The 1604 play centres around Doctor Faustus making a pact with the devil after he becomes sick and tired of the works he has been reading. In selling his soul to Lucifer, Faustus is given a limited time to live and in this given time has Mephistopheles as his slave. Once his time is over he must be damned to spend the rest of his days in hell. Chaos ensues.

Image: Marc Brenner

Undoubtedly, Game of Thrones star Kit Harington is the draw for many here. Especially for those who have seen the promotional shots. However, those expecting to see the northern Jon Snow take to the stage will very quickly have these thoughts snapped from them with Harington putting on a performance that draws you in from the get go. (Though eagled-eared fans will notice at least one small nod to his most acclaimed role.) His portrayal of Doctor John Faustus is one which some have said struggles to carry the show along, but it did not seem this way at all. From loving to hating him, to intrigue at how his mind is working, it’s difficult to not find yourself drawn towards him and his extreme spectrum of personality and emotions.

Having been brought bang up to date, the play brings with it themes of capitalism, fame and greed and gives the audience room to think about what they are doing to us in today’s world. With references to David Cameron and Rupert Murdoch, which are met with applause and cheers, there is a somewhat political message hidden within the story, and there is room given for audiences to read in to the story as more than just a man selling his soul to the devil. Are there more devils than just Lucifer in society today?

There are brief moments in the play that are there for the more adult audience, in the form of sex and sexual violence. Though often the case that they are seen as out of place in much of today’s media culture, here they work and do add to the representation of greed and wanting to have it all at whatever cost, regardless of the effect on others.

Image: Marc Brenner

Credit must be given to Jenna Russell, as Mephistopheles. Aside from a sassy and commanding performance, her breaking of the fourth wall pre-second act in the form of a singalong, including a fantastic rendition of ‘Bat Out Of Hell’, works much better than imagined. We are given a hint of the play beginning before lights dim at the start of Act One, no spoilers, and both these pre-act teasers and performances only help to add to the unusual and intense atmosphere of the production.

With its relatively small cast, praise must be given to the brilliant ensemble who truly added to the atmosphere and staging of the production through their powerful yet subtle facial expressions and movements. Particular credit must go to Forbes Masson as Lucifer. His twisted and often humorous performance is one that stands out.

With only a short time left in its run, a ticket is well worth it if you can get your hands on one. Prepare yourself for one hell of a night.