Doctor Faustus, Duke of York's Theatre, review: Game of Thrones star Kit Harington's 'audacious commitment'

An ambitious update of Marlowe's play pulls in young audiences with Game of Thrones star Kit Harington as Faustus 

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The Independent Culture

Jamie Lloyd has demonstrated that theatre needn't sell its soul to pull in young audiences with his cannily angled productions of the classics at the Trafalgar Studios. So he must have felt it was a typically smart wheeze to cast Game of Thrones star, Kit Harington, as Faustus – the scholar who does indeed sign away his soul to the devil -- in a contemporary update of Marlowe's play that replaces the middle section with scenes (written by Colin Teevan) that satirise the spiritual emptiness of life as a global celebrity.

The pact with the crop-haired, cross-gender Mephistophilis (Jenna Russell) transforms Harington's Faustus from Apple Mac-hugging millennial in hoodie and jeans to a world-famous rock-star illusionist who headlines Las Vegas, antagonises the CIA, and schmoozes with bankers and moguls who are blithely prepared make any deal that exempts them from tax or donations to charity (cue David Cameron jokes). Though there aren't enough colours in his voice as yet to convey the interior music of Marlowe's mighty line, Harington throws himself into the part with audacious commitment, restlessly signalling the pit of soul hunger that no amount of applause or material gratification (a whole pizza gobbled down in strips) can fill. 

There are, however, aspects to the show that feel more like contradictions than fully integrated ironies. The news that the star gets to reveal a lot of his gym-toned body (he spends most of the second half in tight white underpants) can't have done any damage at the box office. An added layer to the satire or a case of having it both ways? The sheer amount of bodily fluids that fly around likewise suggest an over-effortful desire to be graphic. The demons are a cluster of zombies in grubby underwear. The Good and Evil Angel spew white and black foam. Forbes Masson's Glaswegian Lucifer takes to the lavatory to produce the substance needed for a trick about out-of-seasons truffles and caviar, etc. You wouldn't want to foot the laundry bill. 

The production is infernally busy, but there are fine things. Tom Edden goes into a brilliant seizure of shape-shifting as he impersonates the Seven Deadly sins. A shame that the adaptation forces Jenna Russell into a sexualised competition for Faustus because she's marvellously understated in her baleful sense of superiority to mortals and to her job as tour manager for the magician. At the start of the second half, her karaoke version of Meatloaf's “Bat Out of Hell” is a blackly droll Brechtian touch. Ambitious but incoherent, it's a show that embraces some of the good as well as the unfortunate meanings of “diabolical”.

To June 25; 0844 871 7623

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