This made for a great beginning. Doctor Faustus started without any kind of rigid demarcation between ‘performing’ and ‘non-performing’ by interweaving with the chatter of the audience, gaining my attention and focusing my mind on events onstage. Cleaners are often overlooked and this was the case with Wagner. As the play developed so did Jade Anouka’s performance, becoming a beautiful experience in the truest sense of the word. The revelation of her first name created a moment of clarity in the mayhem surrounding Faustus and personified the dignity shown by Wagner. Even when she became the target of Faust’s final grotesque and cruel act, Wagner remained whole, true and unbroken. She and Kit Harington showed total commitment when playing out this final scene, which I found unbearable but also a must watch.
Then the demons. Ahhhh the demons. The underwear. Yuk. The demons drew attention to the human body, especially to its least aesthetic functions. Lucifer, prince of light, as incarnated by Forbes Masson in his underpants, became brilliantly repulsive and hysterically funny. His appearance as the Pope, holding an illuminated statue, a big feature of the kind of ferocious Catholic girlhood that I endured, gave me maximum delight. And let us not forget, that once you’ve paid the price, Lucifer will give you anything you want. His production of caviar with black truffles was sickeningly grotesque and hilarious. This version of Doctor Faustus is full on and unrestrained. Be prepared.
Another highlight was the performance of the seven deadly sins by Tom Edden. Awesome. The same actor created a hauntingly tragic image as Faustus’s good angel, vomiting unspeakable stuff as Faustus signed over his soul to Lucifer.
Jenna Russell as Mephistopheles added her own tragedy to the corruption of Faustus. In moments of poetic beauty she conveyed the intense self awareness of Mephistopheles, how the memory of the wonder and glory she’d lost by being cast out of the heavenly realms gave her endless torment, layers of anguished regret and sorrow. I don’t remember the exact words, but she described the beauty of a garden in heaven, and how, in her rebellion and rage she’d burnt it. At the same time Jenna Russell was also incredibly funny. She added so much to this production, conveying the attraction of Mephistopheles, the cynic who loves.
Kit Harington performed with passion throughout, going through all the horrors with total commitment. He has natural charisma, but behaved as one of the company. No spotlit star actor effect went on here, a refreshing change. Certain powerful moments have stayed with me. Kit Harington spoke the line from Ovid, ‘O lente, lente, curite noctis equi’ (O run slowly, slowly, fast horses of the night) as if it was a magical incantation that could save him from his desperate fate. Again, he begged as a child to a parent. ‘Let Faustus live in hell a thousand years /A hundred thousand and - at last - be sav’d!’Alas, however, ‘O, no end is limited to damned souls!’ There is no redemption, the bargain must be kept. By now the flat is in chaos, Wagner’s order and cleanliness has been destroyed. The final image of Faustus rotating round and round, apparently holding someone, but with empty arms, is truly tragic. He has lost everything he ever loved. For infinite nothingness.
Doctor Faustus begins and ends with Marlowe’s play, with the central part written by Colin Teevan. This works well, as it enlivens proceedings, introducing the idea of selling your soul to celebrity world and bringing in references to current political leaders. Lots of gruesome fun!
Oddly, none of the reviews I read before going to this amazing play related to the production I experienced. Jamie Lloyd has taken on the full depths of meaning in Doctor Faustus, and made it a living and relevant experience. This was excellently, repulsively and humorously done, a true damnation of Faust and a cautionary tale. I won’t be selling my soul anytime soon.