Doctor Faustus - Young Vic 2002
Written by Christopher Marlowe
Directed: David Lan
Producer: Natural Nylon Theatre
Starring:Jude Law (Dr Faustus), Annette Badland, David Fielder, Richard McCabe, Bohdan Poraj, Tom Smith, Ofo Umiara
Story: A retelling of the ancient tale: a man sells his soul to the devil in exchange for infinite knowledge, wealth and power. Tantalisingly ambiguous, is it a Christian morality or an attack on all religion and all authority? What is a human being? In what does our humanity lie?
Review by Tom Keatinge
Christopher Marlowe’s Dr Faustus is one of those productions where the line between success and failure is so easily crossed by the director – memories of shocking school and regional efforts revisit like the demons themselves from the past. Dr Faustus is, of course, also a marvellous vehicle for acting talent – but too much gas and the trip becomes one for the protagonist’s ego, not the audience’s senses. This production of Dr Faustus at the Young Vic, with Jude Law as the eponymous, self-destructive character had all the ingredients that could have led us down either path.
The story is well known. Faustus, rather than confining his studies to religion, chooses to venture beyond the accepted and the normal, to investigate necromancy and conjuration. The further he looks, the more he is drawn in, until, entering into a pact with the devil Lucifer’s servant Mephistophilis, he secures all the power that he seeks, in return for his soul, and an eternity in Hell. Despite warnings, Faustus spirals ever downward, delighting in his increasing evil, and unlike the morality plays of that era, refusing the offers of salvation, until his time comes and he is consumed by Lucifer.
This Young Vic production is undoubtedly a triumph for director David Lan from every perspective. The unique staging, upon a “runway” constructed like a catwalk across the Young Vic space, the terrific ensemble work, the highly original, poignant and at times amusing direction, and the towering performance by Jude Law, all combine to create a winning formula. Faustus’ descent into self-mutilation is brilliantly portrayed by Law, from his pious beginning, until he is boiling with bile and bitterness, tormented by his inevitable destruction – it would be extremely difficult to find a more suitable lead than Law.
The cast do not allow themselves to be overshadowed. Richard McCabe’s performance as Mephistophilis is terrific, at times pained, at times evil, with some delightfully bijoux moments. Tom Smith too is splendid as the fool Robin, providing relief from the storm of Faustus’ annihilation.
All together, this is a magnificent production, for which, together with the Young Vic, there can be no better endorsement than the average age of the audience on a Friday night being half that you would find on Shaftesbury Avenue.
A short, but important footnote – the commercial sector should take note of the quality of the programme for this production. Interesting, enlightening and above all, relevant – no “free copy” of an often irrelevant magazine, to justify the inflated cost. It really cannot be so very difficult to produce a programme of this kind of quality, but it is extremely easy to disappoint.
A round up of the press notices .....
The show reveived reasonable notices from the popular press..... ALASTAIR MACAULAY for THE FINANCIAL TIMES says, “This is a fluent, sincere, remarkably simple Doctor Faustus.” CHARLES SPENCER for THE DAILY TELEGRAPH says, “After a grand start, in which Faustus thrillingly sells his soul to the devil, the play deteriorates into tiresome, lamentably unfunny farce.” MICHAEL COVENEY for THE DAILY MAIL says, “Bearded and perfectly at home in doublet and hose, Law is the beating heart of a tremendous production by David Lan, though there is one great oddity: no Helen of Troy.” MICHAEL BILLINGTON for THE GUARDIAN says, “Law lacks the trained classical voice to match the part's great rhetorical flights, and when it comes to the prospect of eternal damnation he has little to offer except a hoarse rant.” BENEDICT NIGHTINGALE FOR THE TIMES SAYS, “Law may lack some of Faustus’s sensuality…. But he catches the central contradiction of his period: that curiosity is a need and joy but also a danger and destroyer.” PAUL TAYLOR for THE INDEPENDENT says, “Lan's production is never less than good, sometimes very good, and, on more than one occasion, diabolically good.” NICHOLAS DE JONGH for THE EVENING STANDARD says” Jude Law plays Faustus with the arrogance of an angry young man. “ “JEREMY AUSTIN for THE STAGE says, “Jude Law is not a great classical actor. His performance as the vain, doomed doctor in Marlowe's exceptional play lacks some of the weight and gravitas that one more used to the classical style would bring to it.”
(Production photo by : Tristram Kenton )