Review: Doctor Faustus @ Duke of York’s **

Before going to see Doctor Faustus at the Duke of Yorks, I had never seen the play before or read it for that matter. Having seen Jamie Lloyd’s production, I’m still not sure I have seen Doctor Faustus. There’s a lot going on. A love storyline, rape, and Mephistopheles’ ‘Bat Out of Hell’. As said, I’m not as familiar with the plot, but I’m certain none of that features in the original text.

Focusing on the positive, there are some additions or changes which work. Or rather one. The early gender reversal of Mephistopheles makes for an intriguing dynamic. The same can’t be said for the subversion of another character’s gender, Wagner, inserting a love story which feels forced and patronising. Yes, there will be audience members there who are not familiar with the play. But you don’t need to add this trope to make it more relatable. And Harrington’s naked arse. To make matters even stranger, Lloyd’s production is very self aware. The longing looks between Faustus and Wagner are accompanied with Minnie Riperton’s ‘Loving You’. Mocking the very thing they’re showing. Which would be a fine use of meta, did Lloyd’s production not rely heavily upon this trope.

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Kit Harrington as Doctor Faustus. Photograph: Marc Brenner. Source: The Guardian.

The modernisation of this play worked in some respects, notably Faustus’ dwindling popularity in your venue: ‘Las Vegas, London, Milton Keynes, Bognor’. In other respects, it worked appallingly. Colin Teevan’s additional ‘comic scenes’ are jarring to say the least, jumping straight from the original early modern verse to very modern: ‘Oh shit’. I also take issue with the fact that they are not ‘comic’.

The real problem here is excess: there’s just so much going on. A love story and dancing and singing and Derren Brown. It’s just bizarre. The more I thought about it, the more I thought: perhaps this is what Lloyd’s going for, a spectacle? To show excess in every aspect, excess which Faustus himself lives in. But then I thought: no. What seems more likely is they just got a board, threw a ton of ideas at it, and ran without whatever stuck. Unfortunately for audiences and actors alike, everything stuck.

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Jenna Russell as Mephistopheles, and Kit Harrington as Doctor Faustus. Photograph: Marc Brenner. Source: The Guardian.

Not even the acting can save this hellish production. Kit Harrington is at his element in the modern scenes, though is a bit slow off the mark to start. His dynamic with Mephistopheles is to be commended, with his and Jenna Russell’s bringing great energy. Jade Anouka’s Wagner is doomed in terms of characterisation through no fault of her own, but rather the direction. She does well with what she has been given, making for a sympathetic Wagner. Forbes Masson is the contemptible devil, terrifying in the role. Russell’s Mephistopholes steals the show with her take on Mephistopheles who looks like she’s accidentally wandered out of an Almeida production, so stark is the difference in calibre of acting.

Verdict: So much potential, but overhyped. At one point in the play, a character is fed a line of shit. They’re not the only ones it seems.

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