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Kit Harington in Doctor Faustus – review at the Duke of York’s Theatre, London

Craig Stein, Kit Harington and Tom Edden in Doctor Faustus at the Duke of York's Theatre, London. Photo: Marc Brenner

Jamie Lloyd’s contemporary update of Doctor Faustus starts out on fairly familiar ground. Kit Harington’s sweaty-palmed scholar consults his necromantic Macbook and makes his fateful blood pact, but then it takes a detour. This is because Lloyd’s using Colin Teevan’s recent adaptation of the text for the West Yorkshire Playhouse, which dispenses with the middle section and splices in new scenes.

Here the good doctor’s mastery of the dark arts leads him to become world-famous magician, a kind of Bieber-Christ figure with a dusting of Derren Brown who consorts with popes and presidents. Lucifer is a Glaswegian in a stained vest; Mephistopheles an androgynous trickster-cum-tour manager; his diabolical attendants and familiars are now groupies, a pack of gawping white walkers with Harington’s face emblazoned on their chests. Celebrity culture here walks hand in hand with Beelzebub.

By all things holy, this is a very busy production; it’s cacophonous and fidgety, occasionally ingenious, often absurd. It never shuts up. There are comedy schlongs and canned laughter. There are gags about David Cameron (there are also actual gags of the bondage variety). There is an awful lot of bodily fluids: blood, spittle, spatter. Mouths froth. Wounds ooze. Amid all this Harington is nothing if not game. He drools and moons. He spends a lot of time on stage in just his pants. Jenna Russell’s Mephistopheles feels slightly under-utilised in comparison until a demonic second act karaoke session. Forbes Masson is as menacing as a man can be in a pair of grubby y-fronts.

Lloyd’s visual sense remains impeccable. He’s a master of composition, his tableaux referencing everything from Hieronymus Bosch to Brian de Palma, with a few by now obligatory nods to Japanese horror, while Soutra Gilmour’s murky design presents us not just with hell’s kitchen but hell’s khazi too.

This is the Jamie Lloyd Company’s first foray beyond the Trafalgar Studios and it feels slightly cruder than his work there. But while his West End productions might not be transcendent, they are incredibly savvy and never, ever dull. He’s making smart choices, in terms of casting and programming, and in doing so he’s making theatre that’s accessible and appealing. A shame that once again the production features the brutal violation of a woman – it might be intended to show how far Faustus has fallen, but it’s an ugly trope.

While the production sometimes strains to make Marlowe’s own riff on the medieval morality play relevant, it’s definitely going to get people talking. Half-hellmouth, half-klaxon, this is attention-grabbing theatre, and you have to admire the chutzpah of opening this show on the same night season six of Game of Thrones – in which Harington plays dashing, taciturn bastard Jon Snow – premieres in the UK. If half of that energy and sense of excitement can translate to theatre, then (blood-spattered) hats off to him.

Brash, bold, and very messy modern mash-up of Marlowe

Production Information

Doctor Faustus
Duke of York’s Theatre
April 9, 2016
June 25, 2016
Press night
April 25, 2016
Christopher Marlowe, Colin Teevan
Ben and Max Ringham
Jamie Lloyd
Soutra Gilmour
Jon Clark
Ben and Max Ringham
Scott Penrose (special Effects), Jessica Edwards (associate director), Polly Bennett (movement director), Kate Waters (fight director), Barbara Houseman (voice and text coach), Hugh O'Shea (dialect coach), Binnie Bowerman (costume supervisor), Robin Morgan (props supervisor), Kate Hemstock (Kate Hemstock), Helen Gardner (wardrobe daytime assistant), Tom Pickering (technical swing), Warren Letton (associate lighting designer), Jonathan Holby (associate fight director)
Stage manager
Matthew Cullum (company), Vicky Eames (deputy stage manager), James Theobold (assistant stage manager), Amber Waller (technical assistant stage manager)
Production manager
Dominic Fraser
Cast includes
Kit Harington, Jenna Russell, Jade Anouka, Tom Edden, Danielle Flett, Brian Gilligan, Forbes Masson, Craig Stein, Gabby Wong, Garmon Rhys
Ambassador Theatre Group
Jamie Lloyd Company
Running time
2hrs 15mins