It’s an intricate plot, laced with some subversive humour – that the female character is simply called ‘The Woman’ (Molly Lynch), for instance, is itself a kind of commentary on how women were treated a century ago. There is an objection to some of the more overtly misogynistic lyrics (in the show within the show), arguably from a surprising source, but the discussions around what could or should be sacrificed to make a show more appealing have some contemporary applicability.
Geoffrey Tempest (Luke Bateman), a ‘musical playwright’, is financially bereft, which leaves him effectively at the mercy of Prince Lucio Rimanez (Michael Conley). The distinction between what happens in the show and what happens in the show within the show becomes increasingly blurry, which, if anything, helps to maintain concentration in a production that frankly could be sped up a little from its leisurely pace.
It is, perhaps, a gamble to have quite so many musical numbers sung to exactly the same melody, even if it is done deliberately to demonstrate Tempest’s limited ability and therefore the need for some subtle (and not so subtle) changes to his work. The joke wears thin after a while, but the production does well to introduce considerable variation in the second half.
The Sorrows of Satan would appeal to people in the entertainment industry: I venture to suggest it may even be a love letter to it. A commitment to the show (within the show) continuing even as circumstances make it increasingly unviable – for want of a better word – is almost as tragic as it is admirable. It takes a while to warm to it, and I don’t think I felt fully engaged with it, though perhaps it is one of those shows that simply works better seeing it in person than it does seeing it online.
The wit is somewhat removed from the sharpness of Noel Coward’s plays, but the clipped tones of his comedies are evident here, as is the inventive use of dramatic irony. The exaggerated mannerisms are indicative of how many shows were back then. Completing the cast is Amiel (Stefan Bednarczyk), who plays the piano and for some reason has had his tongue removed, though he opens the second half with a patter song (don’t ask).
Those familiar with the story of Faust will, in the end, find no major surprises in the narrative in this musical adaptation. That said, there is a layer of frivolity here that doesn’t come with earlier versions of the story – a song repeatedly name-dropping Tartarus almost makes the deep abyss in Greek mythology a desirable place to visit. The set could have been slightly better lit – or otherwise slightly darker, given that it’s a show with Satan in the title. It made me smile rather than laugh out loud, and it’s fair to say the actors all do a good job.
Review by Chris Omaweng
Filmed in the ballroom at the beautiful Brocket Hall, one of England’s finest stately homes, this musical play reimagines the story of Faust at the heart of 1920s London, where the elite are financially and emotionally bankrupt and one man has a big decision to make…
Pretentiously avant-garde musical playwright Geoffrey Tempest has been kicked out of his accommodation with not a penny to his name. He has one chance to prove himself to the theatrical community: a rehearsed reading of his musical play, ‘The Sorrows of Satan’. When his patron, the prodigal Prince Lucio Rimânez, suggests some significant changes, Geoffrey must decide whether to hold on to his artistic integrity (for what it’s worth) or sell out for the promise of fame, money and the love of his leading lady.
Music by Luke Bateman
Book and Lyrics by Michael Conley
Directed by Adam Lenson
Musical Direction by Stefan Bednarczyk
Lighting by Sam Waddington and Ben Jacobs
Technical Production by Chris Czornyj
Video Designs by Matt Powell
Assistant Director Freya Smith
Produced by Alfred Taylor-Gaunt and Aisling Tara
‘The Sorrows of Satan’