When I saw it during preview, I had very mixed views about director Jamie Lloyd's Dr Faustus, starring reborn Game of Thones hunk Kit Harington. It was very much in 'suck it and see' mode - I described it as "trying very, very hard" - so I was curious how it would bed in. The £15 Monday ticket sale gave me the opportunity to have a second look and re-evaluate.
The production didn't get great press reviews but I still don't think it really matters in terms of the audience pull - Kit is one of the stars of the world's most popular TV show after all and there is still a crowd at the stage door afterwards.
At the curtain call the first time, Kit looked wary and relieved and Jenna Russell was obviously watching out for him. On Monday he looked relaxed and happy and so he should, the show is better, albeit still with some flaws.
The biggest differences are the pace and performances. First time around it set off at a gallop and never slowed, losing the nuances of the story and performance amid a cacophony of mud, music, magic, blood, vomit and dance. Only the strongest performances - Jenna Russell, Forbes Mason and Colin Teevan - stood out. Kit just melted into the background, at least when he was fully clothed he did.
The production has calmed down a notch. Now rather than Faustus throwing a can of drink over himself and sticking pencils up his nose before he even speaks his first lines, the opening is more simply done moving from watching TV to delivering the soliloquy. There is more light and shade in the pace and in the performances and as a result I noticed Kit more. He felt more like the lead rather than part of the ensemble.
I also began to appreciate more of the modern resonances Jamie Lloyd has brought such as Faustus' obsession with fame and his incarnation as a David Blain style entertainer as well as the digs at banks - even if that is an easy and obvious target. There are still some unnecessary treatments - the messengers at the beginning of the play seem to have lost their clothes since preview which wasn't in any way necessary, for example.
I'm still really looking forward to seeing the RSC's version of Dr Faustus in Stratford next week but this production has started to feel more solid and I felt like I could laugh with it rather than at. It is a spectacle for better reasons and I didn't rate it first time around but now I'm going to give it four stars.
Catch Kit and crew at the Duke of York's Theatre until June 25.