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Doctor Faustus at Southwark Playhouse

It’s one of those shows that has no interval, and if it did have one, the cynic in me wonders how many people would bother returning. The rear wall of the stage seems to be a cross between the results of an ongoing crime investigation and one of those overcrowded noticeboards at a town hall or library, dotted with pictures and graphics. The busyness of that wall is indicative of the play as a whole, discordant and not the easiest of narratives to follow. A large curtain is regularly drawn, completely obscuring the wall – it also seems to be a metaphorical cover-up for a show that goes from scene to scene, with not very much connecting them.

Doctor Faustus, Lazarus Theatre at Southwark Playhouse, photo by Charles Flint
Doctor Faustus, Lazarus Theatre at Southwark Playhouse, photo by Charles Flint.

Watching this production, it did feel as though one had to have had some prior knowledge of the play before seeing it in order to be able to appreciate it in its fullness, or at least have a companion in the audience who knew it well enough such that you could have a chat about it afterwards. Spend long enough in London these days and you’ll invariably come across someone yelling, usually out of doors but sometimes even on the Underground, about how the end of the world is nigh and that we must all ‘repent’ and find God or else we’ll end up damned to Hell for all eternity. Doctor Faustus is effectively a variation of that, even if, as the narrative would have, it, Faustus (Jamie O’Neill) has made a pact with Lucifer (Candis Butler Jones).

Perhaps because there are examples of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ angels in the likes of The Simpsons – Homer Simpson sold his soul to the Devil for a doughnut – and Family Guy, the repeated appearances of Good Angel (Hamish Somers) and Evil Angel (Rachel Kelly) on either side of Faustus come across as rather more comical than intended – this is, after all, a most unsubtle tale about the struggle between good and evil, and the teachings of organised Western Christian religion that assert there is always a way to ‘salvation’, provided one does the things organised religion demands. This is, of course, known to Faustus, which explains his long preamble about, amongst other things, having studied theology at the University of Wittenberg.

But despite a valiant attempt to bring the play into more contemporary times (there’s a telephone on stage, for instance, even if nobody uses it) the show might have worked better if it had remained in the sixteenth century, particularly as much of Christopher Marlowe’s blank verse has been retained. Still, it does have some good moments, such as a song and dance scene in which cardinal sins are personified. A later portrayal of the Pope as someone who swears a lot and participates in the Hokey Cokey isn’t offensive, at least not to me, but it is very weird.

It is, for some reason, some minutes before anybody says anything. Both literally and figuratively messy, it does at least have strong leads in the form of Faustus and in David Angland’s Mephistopheles, a sophisticated and streetwise character that answers to Lucifer but is also entirely capable of independent thought. In the end, though, it was all rather bizarre. “What means this show?” asks Faustus. Well, indeed.

3 Star Review

Review by Chris Omaweng

John Faustus in search of complete fulfilment sells his soul to the Devil in return for 24 years of unlimited knowledge, power and fame, as the clock strikes 12 on his final day, Mephistopheles enters, repayment is due.

Christopher Marlowe’s extraordinary, theatrical and fantastical Doctor Faustus comes to the stage in this all-new ensemble production.

Suitable for ages 14+.

Creative Team
Adapted & Directed by Ricky Dukes
Designer Sorcha Corcoran
Lighting Designer Stuart Glover
Sound Designer Sam Glossop
Costume Designer Reuben Speed
Music by Bobby Locke
Stage Manager Verena Prandstaetter Assistant Designer Kaitlin Duncan
Ken Pickering Future Directors Scheme Assistant Director Airlie Delyse
Artwork Portrait shot Alex Brenner
Rehearsal and production shots Charles Flint
Company Photographer Adam Trigg
Producer for LTC Gavin Harrington-Odedra
PR Chloé Nelkin Consulting

David Angland, Candis Butler Jones, Stefan Capper, Rachel Kelly, Henry Mettle, Charis Murray, Jamie O’Neill,
Jordan Peedell, Henrietta Rhodes, Hamish Somers

1 SEP – 1 OCT 2022

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