Last week, with the visual splendors of the Royal Ballet's FRANKENSTEIN still in mind, we saw the much-hyped DOCTOR FAUSTUS directed by the ubiquitous Jamie Lloyd and starring GAME OF THRONES star Kit Harington. And all I can say is that I was so happy to have seen Christopher Marlowe's play at the Globe five years ago so I at least had a clue as to what was going on in Lloyd's profoundly ugly production. Oops, showed my hand there a little early...
The sinking feeling started when I saw that it was DOCTOR FAUSTUS by Christopher Marlowe *and* Colin Teevan - not 'adapted by' or 'in a version by' - no, this was a joint venture between Marlowe and Teevan, the author of a play called THE WALLS which was one of the worst things I have ever seen at the National Theatre. But here he is, writing alongside Marlowe which must have been a solitary experience bearing in mind Kit Marlowe was killed 423 years ago.
(The above picture by the way shows the subtlety of Lloyd's vision)
Dishearteningly the facile nature of the enterprise starts even before the show starts with songs playing that have been picked because the words Hell or Devil are in the title - geddit? Because you see, Faustus sells his soul to the Devil and as you probably won't get that out of the production it has to be pointed out to you... Do you see? Elvis Presley singing "You're The Devil In Disguise"? Do you? I could always draw you a diagram?
So as you are listening to this grindingly obvious setlist you can also soak up Soutra Gilmour's depressingly ugly set of a motel-style apartment - like something out of a "Twin Peaks" nightmare - as Faustus (the curly mop-top that is Kit Harington) sitting on the toilet then walking into the set to watch his portable tv while drooling. Yes, drooling.
I guess it had to start... and start it did. For a reason that really wasn't ever made totally clear, the supporting cast all were in baggy, greying underwear - apart from Valdes and Cornelius who are the magicians that Faustus how to summon the Devil - they, Constant Reader, are naked. On reflection it appears that the supporting cast were picked for their pot-bellies, scrawny bodies, slack tits and greasy hair. Owen hit it on the head nicely that it's better to have a misfit cast when you have a pretty-boy lead so they don't pull focus. Oh yes and Craig Stein as The Evil Angel wears a girdle petticoat. Why? You tell me.
So despite the confusing action on stage it could be ascertained that Faustus had summoned up both Lucifer (Forbes Masson in his most thick-ear Glasgae accent) and the permanently pissed-off Mephistopheles (Jenna Russell, the sole reason to see the show). So far so irritating but then it took a downturn...
Out went Marlowe's poetry and in came Teevan's modern-day dialogue to show us the cheap, shallow world of celebrity - because Teevan has hit upon the whizzer idea of making Faustus a rock 'n' roll magician - cue endless air guitar poses with power chords blaring out. Marlowe's Faustus wishes to change the world through his magic only to debase his gift entertaining the crown heads of Europe as a court entertainer, Teevan's becomes an arena act who end up doing a gig for Obama and featuring in Hello. Needless to say not one of Teevan's lines stay in the mind.
After the endless gurning and fart jokes - we return back to Marlowe's poetry for Faustus' last night on earth before being dragged to Hell (or waltzing on his own as in the end of this production) but oh no, Lloyd and Teevan have another trick up their sleeve to make it more 'real'. Faustus' servant Wagner is here turned into his girlfriend but for the famous scene when Faustus conjures up Helen of Troy, Lucifer ushers in Wagner bound and gagged and while Faustus speaks the famous lines "Was this the face that launch'd a thousand ships and burnt the topless towers of Ilium..." Lloyd has Faustus rape Wagner and stab her to death.
And that Constant Reader, was when I lost all interest in this meretricious nonsense and the director and writer's absurd presumption that Marlowe's play - which has survived quite happily for as long as he has been dead - needs their aggrieves kicking.
Jamie Lloyd - fashionable for his Trafalgar Studios revivals - is in fact the worst contributor to the ghastly "director theatre" concept - everything is stripped down to the lowest common denominator because of a belief that the audience are really quite stupid and cannot understand what the text is saying because it's, like, not in twitterspeak? There is also the juvenile attempts at 'shocking' their perceived middle class audience but the best/worst they can come up with - a rich woman eating the Devil's shit thinking it's truffles - leaves you shaking your head at the sheer bloody obvious thinking behind it all.
It is an artistic view that is becoming increasingly ugly and jejune. Jamie Lloyd, judging from his anal fixation shown here, is fast disappearing up his own arse.
I would happily sell my soul to the Devil to avoid seeing this again.