'Dr Faustus' at Southwark Playhouse

Lazarus Theatre Company’s adaptation of Christopher Marlowe’s infamous tale of greed, Doctor Faustus, is a production that thrives on the audience’s surprise. As a theatre company that is dedicated to putting a modern twist on classic plays, Lazarus brought out a stellar cast to highlight the contemporary relevance of Faustus’ tale today.


With a set adorned in satanic paraphernalia, in what seemed to embody a 1980s PhD student office, Jamie O’Neill’s Faustus kicked his feet up and began his performance as the doomed titular character. The beginning felt somewhat lacklustre - though the set had created an ominous landscape, O’Neill’s Faustus failed to encapsulate his arrogance and sense of superiority. The additional time lent to Faustus calling on Satan to fulfil his wish to dabble in the dark arts featured a heavy rock musical interlude as O’Neill leapt onto the table, drawing pentagrams that teetered into the territory of self-indulgence and amateurism.


David Angland’s Mephistopheles entered the performance at just the right moment, appearing as a 1980s Wall Street banker in a puff of smoke with a sneering face and sarcastic tone. As the right-hand man of Lucifer, he offers Faustus all knowledge and power, in return for giving his soul to Lucifer in twelve years time - a deal that is signed with Faustus’ blood. However, despite the dramatic tension, the scene was let down by over-acting on O’Neill’s part and an overuse of fake blood that made the scene seem almost comedic.


That is not to say that comedy has no place in a Doctor Faustus adaptation, as the rest of their company showcase themselves as devils and as the seven deadly sins in an avant-garde performance; the latter of which created an earworm of a song dripping in satire. Candis Butler Jones shone as the leader, Lucifer (or Lucy, as she introduced herself to the audience) clad in a white power suit that epitomised the very meaning of #girlboss. Butler Jones matched, if not succeeded Angland’s dry and witty Mephistopheles, whilst also changing into a green-mouthed Bride from Hell upon Faustus’ request for a wife, which resulted in green bile falling all over O’Neill’s white t-shirt.


The mismatch of genres from horror to comedy to drama in this adaptation on paper would seem to jar with an audience, but reactions would tell otherwise. Alongside, Angland’s brief turn as an American astronomer as the company transformed themselves into planets for Faustus, and Rachel Kelly’s Irish feck-dropping Pope, Lazarus allowed Doctor Faustus to be freed from restrictive adaptations that wish to follow an Elizabethan drama; forgetting of course, that the themes of greed and power can easily be applied to the state of the world today, in a society of billionaires and ‘the 1%’.


The penultimate scene, where the ethereal Helen of Troy seemingly arrives upon Faustus’ request as one of his deals with Mephistopheles, was tender, toe-curling and full of shocks; enabling O’Neill to finally embrace his role as the ultimate arrogant, doomed man. His final scene where Lucifer arrived with her entourage, carrying plastic sheets and laden with blue surgical gloves in something reminiscent of a crime drama episode, was in fact as emotional as the fear on O’Neill’s face as he finally told the story of a regretful man; someone whose ego was the result of his demise. As a voiceover announced that Faustus was gone and the lights went dark, with blood spattered over the plastic sheet with which O’Neill appeared to lay suffocated underneath, it seemed to offer a brief second of reflection, with Doctor Faustus once again appearing as a cautionary tale for those who are never satisfied.


Whilst choreographed extremely well, with actors’ movements appearing rehearsed right down to the movement of one’s little finger, it is a shame that O’Neill’s Faustus took so long to thaw in front of the audience, As small as the Southwark Playhouse is, Faustus could have been made to be so much bigger, allowing his ego to take up the entire stage, but instead he was outshone by the devils themselves, who relished in villainy and viciousness. Ultimately though, it was a carefully thought out production which breathed fresh air to Marlowe’s tale.





Edited by Eunmin Na


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