Doctor Faustus, Southwark Playhouse – Review

The legend of Faust(us) and his bargain with the Devil is familiar to many, and in many ways what he’s compelled to do makes him a tragic figure cut from the same cloth as Macbeth. In our secular age, ‘concepts’ such as God and the Devil are not deemed as important as quality of life and experiences (or the lack of). With this in mind, do we like Faustus put off unpleasant choices and consequences while we enjoy ‘today’..?

Lazarus Theatre Company’s latest production of Doctor Faustus (which is directed by Ricky Dukes), takes place with modern dress, but retains Christopher Marlowe’s original words (albeit in a truncated version).

All photos © Charles Flint

Still very much a scholar in this version, John Faustus (Jamie O’Neill) has explored the boundaries of human knowledge, yet still wants to know and experience ‘more’. Feeling he’s reached the limits of where human learning and religion can take him, Faustus turns to the occult for answers. Played by David Angland, his Mephistopheles (who is the servant of Lucifer) is affable and polite. But behind Mephistopheles’s ‘velvet glove’ lies an iron hand and he doesn’t sugar-coat the cost for Faustus of acquiring his heart’s desire.

Considering the lengths he goes to to summon demonic influence and sway, Faustus’s requests are mostly about the mysteries of the natural world – showing the preoccupation of the educated during Marlowe’s day. Still, Faustus’s modest, inoffensive appetites only serve to remind the audience of his relative ‘innocence’ and that if he is guilty of anything, it’s of hubris for thinking his will is immutable, and that he’s willing to face all consequences…

While Mephistopheles is a prominent figure in the play, Lucifer ‘herself’ also features (played by Camdis Butler Jones). Dressed in ‘subversive’ white like Satan in Constantine, Lucifer is accompanied by the personifications of the Seven Deadly Sins (played by Stefan Capper, Rachel Kelley, Henry Mettle, Charis Murray, Jordan Peedell, Henrietta Rhodes and Hamish Somers). Their presence heightens the hedonistic reality – channelling during their musical number the anarchistic energy of The Rocky Horror Show.

Running at 90 minutes, this version of Doctor Faustus is a lean, taut production that eschews the fat of the original narrative, while at the same time displaying visual flair and visceral images.

© Michael Davis 2022

Doctor Faustus runs at Southwark Playhouse until 1st October.

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