One of my last weekends studying abroad was spent in London with four friends with whom I worked on a production of "The Mousetrap" in Rome. Some of us pretended the trip was actually to see London's sights, the rest of us fully aware that the climax would be seeing, "Phantom of the Opera" that Saturday night. Little did we know one of the most excited moments of our time in London would come the night before, when all of us managed to get tickets in the stalls for Marlowe's "Doctor Faustus" at the Duke of York's Theatre, starring "Game of Thrones" star, Kit Harington.
Jamie Lloyd's production takes the 16th century knowledge-starved doctor looking to deal with the devil to win power and wisdom into the present day with a partially rewritten script and modern circumstances, making him into a student turned Vegas illusionist. Kit embraced this role completely. Before the show began, his Faustus appeared and settled onto the edge of his bed. For the next ten minutes, he sat motionless, watching the television as drool spilled from his mouth and songs from the past century about the devil and crossroads played over the theater speakers. The lights cracks and flickered out once the show began, and Kit introduced the audience to a character so emotional and messy and conflicted from his first line that it was impossible not to be entranced by the performance. The rest of the cast, especially those playing the demons that constantly surround Faustus, were just as inspired, and when combined with the moving set and elaborate effects, lighting and sound design, the production became a bloody and brightly colored spectacle.
As brilliant as it is to look at, the play does suffer from moments of poor writing, most of which may be attributed to the fact that the production's idea of making the play more modern relies on the conception that modern language is simpler. The first scenes are portrayed with the original 16th century dialogue, which was completely brilliant to watch. Once the language was changed, though, the play started to feel cliché and cheesy. It was a complete relief when the show finally returned to its source text in the final scenes, proving that the unease I had felt throughout hadn't been due to the blood and bile or the raunchy or offensive content, since all of that continued into the play's finale. The play's worst moments came completely out of the fact that the modern context couldn't just be left in the costuming and set. The production felt had to be taken into the script, making Faustus completely clumsily spoken and simple-minded even as he's meant to have just been given such immense knowledge. A lot of it was extremely clever, but there were far too many moments where the sloppy dialogue managed to throw you out of the story for a moment before trying to reel you back in with gore and curses.
Despite this weakness, there was hardly a moment that wasn't enjoyable to watch. Kit was able to take each line and layer it in emotion. The actors were completely dedicated to their characters, to the point that the supporting cast was just as enthralling as its main characters. My favorite moment was when one demon stepped forward and played all seven of the deadly sins possessing one body, a part traditionally played by separate actors. The entire production relied on its actors and spectacle (and the hope that Kit Harington might show the audience his butt again), but those elements made it so enjoyable to watch that the changed to the script hardly detracted from the experience. The five of us stood outside the stage door, thanking every actor that passed us, because every demon on the stage had been the only thing truly saving this oddly written production.