Tuesday, May 28

Doctor Faustus – Southwark Playhouse

The plot of Doctorr Faustus is well trodden in the arts – character thinks s/he is getting everything they’ve ever wanted, turns out the small print doesn’t exactly chime with that. Spoiler alert – your heart’s desire may not be all it’s cracked up to be and/or comes with some undesirable side effects. But Faustus really should have known better – he knows he is quite literally making a deal with the devil and even back in the Elizabethan era should probably have known that might come back to bite him.

The stage set up at the Southwark Playhouse (never been, would definitely return – front of house staff charming, drinks reasonably priced, delightfully air-conditioned space) is a little confusing. The setting is very 80s with a dial-up telephone and recording apparatus, yet the backdrop is far more DaVinci’s Mind Palace. I’d have really liked it to be either full 80s or not, but the nods to some of the more traditional staging did detract a bit from the intended setting. That said, the costumes (courtesy of Ruben Speed) are absolutely on point and a real visual delight. Likewise, the lighting and special effects are used sparingly but transform the relatively intimate space dramatically across the 90-minute production (no interval, no readmittance, just FYI).

Photo: Charles Flint

It’s the staging within the intimate space that I found let down an otherwise incredibly strong production. With the audience on three sides and characters at some points pulling up chairs in the front row, very little escapes the audience’s notice. Some dance sequences and other choreography in particular aim to be sharp and snappy but aren’t quite tight enough to deliver what is needed. A step out of time or off your mark and you’re immediately visible in a way that you’re not from a distance. Some of the staging was perhaps overly ambitious for such a tight space and left little margin for error or even easy manoeuvring, and I wondered if shifting some of the action a metre or so towards the back of the stage might have made things a bit easier for everyone. Overall, the production feels like it takes itself very seriously which can be challenging to pull off on a fringe budget. Jupiter was, at the end of the day, a yoga ball with a hula hoop around it, and no amount of suspending one’s disbelief will change that.

That’s not to say that the performances were bad by any stretch, though. I’d say the acting is strong here, with Faustus (Jamie O’Neill), Mephistopheles (David Angland) and Lucifer (Candis Butler Jones) delivering incredibly arresting performances that swing easily between serious tragedy and light relief. The script is challenging but performed with confidence and ease, and I detected no fidgeting or restlessness in the crowd around me which is definitely a good sign for a one act of 90 minutes.

Overall, I’d happily recommend this to a discerning fringe theatre audience – a unique treat of an evening with an overall message that has stood the test of time.

Doctorr Faustus runs at the Southwark Playhouse until 1st October. https://www.southwarkplayhouse.co.uk/

Reviewer: Zoё Meeres

Reviewed: 7th September 2022

North West End UK Rating: ★★★