The Brunel Writer Prize is awarded to the student who achieves the highest graded non-fiction article submission for the Creative Industries module on Brunel University’s Creative Writing programme. The piece of non-fiction should be ‘fresh, original, compelling and well balanced’. The winner of this year’s inaugural prize is Lorna Martin for her review of Jamie Lloyd’s recent production of Doctor Faustus at the Duke of York’s Theatre.
Congratulations to Lorna. Read the review below:
WHAT THE HELL? – A REVIEW OF JAMIE LLOYD’S DOCTOR FAUSTUS (9th April – 25th June 2016)
Jamie Lloyd’s production is like a Faustian pact; it starts off with excitement and intrigue, but quickly descends into something awful. This review will contain spoilers.
The house lights fade. On stage, Faustus (Game of Thrones’s Kit Harington) lies on a bed, his eyes glued to a television screen, while his student and later personal-assistant-cum-love-interest Wagner (Jade Anouka) symbolically cleans in the background. The set is hyper-realistic, showing a mundane looking flat, bedroom and living space in front with a kitchen towards the back of the stage. So far, so intriguing.
The first section combines physical theatre, music and an imaginative use of the set to bring the pact scene to life. Harington’s Faustus, frustrated by his own weakness, keeps us interested throughout the initial monologue, and although the modern update occasionally felt forced (an Apple Mac instead of “my books”) the juxtaposition of the mundane setting and the devils constantly lurking in the background is deeply unsettling. Particularly effective is the rising chaos of the stage, which gradually got messier as blood and black powder was trodden everywhere by barefoot actors. What really drives these scenes though, is the power of Marlowe’s text. When that is replaced with Colin Teevan’s new scenes, the production completely loses its philosophical depth, moving from deep questions of morality to something more resembling a soap opera.
On its own, Teevan’s writing could have been good, and there were moments where his talent shone through. However, anything would pale in comparison to a play which has endured for over 400 years. I felt like I was watching two plays, with completely different characters and themes. The production’s focus on celebrity culture felt simultaneously irrelevant and too obvious; the bizarre scene where Faustus takes out six FBI agents in the shower left me totally confused. A few other questionable moments – a man playing a pregnant woman in a ridiculously camp falsetto voice, a borderline transphobic joke where a man and woman have their genitals switched, not to mention the unnecessarily graphic rape of Wagner – made this production uncomfortable for all the wrong reasons.
Jenna Russell’s Mephistopheles is moving, her speeches about losing God’s love especially poignant. Unfortunately, the play quickly becomes a love triangle, with Mephistopheles and Wagner suddenly competing for Faustus’s romantic attention. By positing Wagner as the symbolic ‘goodness’, the production attempts to make Faustus’s struggle between God and the Devil more understandable to a modern audience.
However, instead of tired old tropes which are at best boring, and at worst sexist, I wish I had been trusted to understand that Heaven and Hell were metaphors that could stand alone. I wish that Marlowe’s subtlety and the beauty of his writing could have been more than just an opening and conclusion tacked on the end. Frankly, I wish the production had been more mature, subtle and true to the themes of the text. The two angels in the opening scenes were a beautiful and original take on a concept which could easily feel out of place in a modern production; clearly it was possible to update the play without rewriting it. I would have loved to see Lloyd’s take on certain scenes from Marlowe; instead, by the second act I was ready to sell my soul to the devil in exchange for being allowed to leave.
In the play, Faustus’s time on Earth seems to fly by inhumanly quickly. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for this production. When the curtain finally fell, I heard the woman sitting next to me mutter, “What the hell.” I have to say I agree with her.
Lorna Martin is usually writing something creative or having opinions. Her current projects include developing a short horror screenplay for Lincoln Japan Festival, and working on her first poetry pamphlet. Lorna’s work has been published in Roulade Magazine and you can read her film reviews at Blueprint: Review.