Jenna Russell's (Mephistopheles) is sat on the stage, her legs intertwined with those of Kit Harington's (Dr Faustus). Her face is inches away from his: "I'm in hell," she says. "I'll bet you are," I think.
She is the genius casting in Jamie Lloyd's production of Dr Faustus. A woman, an older woman, with short cropped hair, dressed in an old lady's nightie seducing and tricking the pretty young Dr Faustus into damnation. Not that he is difficult to trick of course which more acutely exposes his human weaknesses. She is the strength of the play as is Forbes Masson who is a white-vest, white-pants wearing Lucifer. They make a brilliantly evil pair but I'm not sure it should be quite so much fun watching them toy with Faustus.
And this, perhaps, is part of the problem. The production puts its marker in the sand within minutes. The bored Faustus throws a can of drink over himself before delivering his first lines about how law, religion and medicine no longer hold any interest or intrigue for him. The chorus, all dressed in dirty white underclothes, with dark shadows under their eyes, watch ghoul-like from doorways and cupboards. Within minutes one of them has vomited up black stuff and another is foaming at the mouth and spitting it everywhere. Then a bucket of dirt comes out and then another with white powder both of which end up poured all over the floor of the living room set.
It continues with this level of destruction, mess and blood throughout. Which is probably why I found the ending a little disappointing but I'll come back to that. Like Kit Harington's performance (see below) there is very little light and shade, little subtlety and nothing to build towards. It is full on with snippets of music-video like dance routines, magic tricks and karaoke and it just feels like it is trying very, very hard.
There are some great set pieces. Jenna Russell does the karaoke which is a superbly cheesy montage of Kylie's Better the Devil You Know, Cliff Richard's Devil Woman and Meat Loaf's Bat Out Of Hell (she locked eyes with Poly at one point). Tom Edden does a brilliant human embodiment of the seven deadly scenes and Forbes Masson miming Happy Birthday Mr President in the style of Marilyn Monroe (Jenna Russell does the vocals) is something you have to see.
As he speeds faster towards damnation his last redeeming feature, his love for Wagner (Jade Anouka), is stomped out with a graphic act of violence. From there his clothes come off and the blood really starts to pour.
So, at his moment of damnation when he is left dancing on his own in what is probably one of the only subtle moments of the play, inside I was baying for him to be plunged in fiery pit. I mean you can do the blood, vomit, muck, violence, magic and karaoke and you can't do a fiery pit or some other deservingly tortuous ending? It was bit of anti-climax.
There is so much I'm going to remember about this production for good and bad reasons. I laughed with it, I laughed at it, I rolled my eyes, I smiled, I grimaced, I shook my head, I found myself singing along to a Kylie song and I admired Kit Harington's rather fit bod (there are worse ways to spend an evening). I can't wait to read what the critics make of it but I don't think it will matter one bit. Looking around at the faces in the auditorium and seeing the size of the crowd at the stage door afterwards, Dr Faustus already has its audience.
I have no idea what rating to give it. There were bits that were five star and bits that were two stars. It's certainly going to get a StOlivier or two at the end of the year.
It is currently running at two hours and 15 minutes with an interval and is on at the Duke of York's Theatre until June 25. There are £15 Monday tickets available see the website for details.
More about Kit.
Kit, Kit, Kit. Sigh. I saw him play Albert Narracott in War Horse (look how young he looks) and he had a slightly annoying 'young' voice with a west country accent in that. He sounds similar here but without the west country accent and I'm not sure why. It's not the tone of his natural speaking voice. He doesn't need to sound young he's not playing a child genius, he's not playing a teenager, he's playing a doctor. For me, it didn't work for the part.
I also saw him in Posh at the Royal Court, apparently. I saw the play, I can't remember him at all. In fact Poly didn't believe he had been in it until I googled the cast list. And in Dr Faustus he still gets a bit lost at times, partly because there is so much else going on and partly because Jenna Russell and Forbes Masson are so good and your eye is constantly drawn to them. And perhaps partly because his performance seems to be pitched at pretty much the same level throughout. There is little to build up to and little coming down.
This is going to sound really mean, sorry, but I have to say it, if he wasn't so pretty and didn't have such an amazing body would you notice him on stage? Is this why Jamie Lloyd has him in just his tight white boxers for a chunk of the play (and in the shower)? It was a preview performance so perhaps he'll blossom as the run progresses.
I'm glad I've seen him playing a major role on stage again and glad I got to be in a seat that he had to brush past to get on stage but now I'm really looking forward to seeing the RSC's version of Dr Faustus.
* A few weeks after writing this review I saw Dr Faustus again to see how it had bedded in and this is what I thought.