DOCTOR FAUSTUS at the Southwark Playhouse
“Lazarus Theatre Company has found a wonderful Faustus in Jamie O’Neill”
Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus is his most famous play—and the one that inspired, and continues to inspire—a host of distinguished dramas. Playwrights Goethe and Gertrude Stein are just two who fell under the spell of Doctor Faustus. But anyone who has read Marlowe’s script knows it’s a beast to make sense of. In this production at the Southwark Playhouse, the Lazarus Theatre Company manages its production of Doctor Faustus in a way that is both accessible and enticing. Dare I say diabolically so? Director Ricky Dukes has done a brilliant job in cutting the script to a manageable ninety minutes, and at a pace that makes the time fly by. He has also assembled a cast and crew up to the challenge of making this Renaissance gem coherent and entertaining for a modern audience. If you’re Faustus curious, this is the show to see.
Set in Wittenberg in the fifteenth century, Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus is the story of an academic who has learned everything there is to learn. He’s frustrated, understandably so, by the limitations of the Renaissance curriculum. He’s also a proud man, and attracted by power. He’s found that studying astrology, medicine, law, and even divinity, is not enough to satisfy his curiosity about the universe. Only studying the dark arts can satisfy his desire for knowledge, and provide him with the power that knowledge gives him over his fellow humans. To a Renaissance audience, the outcome of such an overweening power grab would be obvious from the outset. The appearance of good and bad angels, warning of the evils of such a quest, would be expected. Marlowe’s genius in Doctor Faustus is to show the audience how it all plays out. He does so with the most marvelous language—Marlowe’s “mighty line”—and a host of unforgettable characters. Even the Seven Deadly Sins make an appearance. But the most memorable character is Mephistopheles, the devil’s henchman—the one responsible for getting Faustus to sign away his soul, in blood, on the dotted line.
The Lazarus Theatre Company has found a wonderful Faustus in Jamie O’Neill. He manages a lithe athleticism and intelligent delivery that serves him well with both the language and action of this demanding role. He is ably partnered by David Angland’s Mephistopheles, who displays just the right amount of disdain at the tasks Faustus sets him. There are some genuinely surprising moments produced by the talented ensemble of performers who act, sing and dance around the doomed doctor. Director Dukes is just as skilled a director as he is an adaptor. Candis Butler Jones takes on terror in interesting and innovative ways as she glides from the Bride from Hell to Lucifer. The whole cast is equally as accomplished in the ways they morph from good to evil; from scholarship to sin, and from temptation to the concept of divine mercy understood, at last, too late. Stefan Capper, Rachel Kelly, Henry Mettle, Charis Murray, Jordan Peedell, Henrietta Rhodes and Hamish Somers keep up the pace. They perform, in convincing detail, the consequences of Faustus’ pride.
This dynamic production takes place on a small set populated with flexible office equipment, and with a curtain that reveals and conceals. There is also an eye-catching collection of dramaturgical wallpaper that must have taken set designer Sorcha Corcoran an age to compile. It is tempting to ask if she got some help. Costume designer Reuben Speed provides visually striking costumes, particularly for the Seven Deadly Sins, which are slyly appropriate. Composer Bobby Locke produces an edgy sound for this production of Doctor Faustus, and Lighting Designer Stuart Glover and Sound Designer Sam Glossop round out what feels like a big show in a small space.
The devil really is in the details in the Lazarus Theatre Company’s production of Doctor Faustus, but you don’t need to risk your soul to enjoy it. Catch if you can.
Reviewed on 7th September 2022
by Dominica Plummer
Photography by Charles Flint
Previously reviewed at this venue: