It’s one of those shows that doesn’t have an interval, and if it had one, the cynic in me wonders how many people would bother to come back. The back wall of the stage seems like a cross between the results of an ongoing criminal investigation and one of those crowded bulletin boards in a town hall or library, strewn with pictures and graphics. The bustle of this wall is indicative of the piece as a whole, jarring and not the easiest of narratives to follow. A large curtain is regularly drawn, completely obscuring the wall – it also seems like a metaphorical cover for a show that goes from scene to scene, without connecting them too much.

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

Watching this production felt like you had to have prior knowledge of the play before seeing it to be able to appreciate it in its fullness, or at least have a companion in the audience who knew it well enough like that you could discuss it later. Spend enough time in London these days and you’ll invariably come across someone shouting, usually outside but sometimes even on the Tube, about the end of the world and the fact that we all need to ‘repent’ and find God, otherwise we will end up damned in Hell for eternity. Doctor Faust is effectively a variant of that, though as the narrative would have it, Faustus (Jamie O’Neill) made a pact with Lucifer (Candis Butler Jones).

Perhaps because there are examples of “good” and “bad” angels like The simpsons – Homer Simpson sold his soul to the Devil for a donut – and family guy, the repeated appearances of Good Angel (Hamish Somers) and Evil Angel (Rachel Kelly) on either side of Faustus seem rather more comedic than expected – it is, after all, a most subtle story about the struggle between the right and wrong, and the teachings of organized Western Christian religion that there is always a way to “salvation,” provided one does what organized religion demands. This is, of course, known to Faustus, which explains his long preamble on, among other things, his theological studies 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 example, even though no one is using it), the show might have worked better had it stayed at the sixteenth century, especially since much of Christopher Marlowe’s blank verse has been preserved. Still, there are good moments, like a song-and-dance scene in which the deadly sins are personified. A later depiction of the Pope as someone who swears a lot and partakes in the Hokey Cokey is not offensive, at least not to me, but it is very bizarre.

It is, for some reason, a few minutes before someone says anything. Both literally and figuratively messy, it has at least some strong leads in the form of David Angland’s Faustus and Mephistopheles, a sophisticated and resourceful character who answers to Lucifer but is also quite capable of independent thinking. In the end, however, it was all rather bizarre. “What does this show mean?asks Faust. Well, indeed.

3 star reviews

Comment by Chris Omaweng

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

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

Suitable for ages 14 and up.

Creative team
Adapted and 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 Design Assistant Kaitlin Duncan
Ken Pickering Future Directors Scheme Deputy Director Airlie Delyse
Portrait by Alex Brenner
Charles Flint Rehearsal and Production Plans
Corporate Photographer Adam Trigg
Producer for LTC Gavin Harrington-Odedra
PR Chloe 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