DOCTOR FAUSTUS | London, Southwark Playhouse

Lazarus Theatre Company is very young, with a cast fresh out of drama school, but this production of Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus (1592) is just as full of demonic bite as Satan himself could wish. With a dated production design (Sorcha Corcoran) that sees hell’s fiercest demons as black-tied briefcase wielders, in a wood-panelled architect’s studio, Christopher Marlowe’s frightening fable has never felt so visceral.

The most striking and emotionally charged aspect of the production is the casting of Mephistopheles (David Angland), not as the world-weary, ancient servant of Marlowe’s text, but as an energetic, young people-pleaser. His intense description to Faustus (Jamie O’Neill) of his being cast out of paradise somehow seems the emotional core of the play.

Another key aspect of this production is the mirthless music (Bobby Locke), especially for the horrifically choreographed “show” (Ricky Dukes) that Mephistopheles conjures in celebration of Faustus’ blood pact, and the lengthy, cartoonish, musical parade of the seven deadly sins as a zero-budget fashion show.

The decision to cut the action right down to 100 minutes, with no interval, keeps the stakes high and the satanic surrealism palpable. As to why Faustus must have model good looks and perfectly defined abs (O’Neill is shirtless for a good chunk of the runtime), when Marlowe is at pains to describe him as a friendless nerd, the production doesn’t seem to explain. But this is indeed a sexy, close-up production of Marlowe’s classic, that will leave you breathless.

Playing at Elephant & Castle 1 Sep – 1 Oct 2022.

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