Tag Archives: Lazarus Theatre

“Doctor Faustus” at the Southwark Playhouse

Christopher Marlowe’s play is always a fiendish one to stage – with ‘Enter Devils’ as a stage direction, how could it not be? But this new updated production is excellent and confirms that shows from Lazarus Theatre are must-sees.

There may be rough moments and the show is, literally, messy. But, alongside plenty of blood and a paper-strewn stage, the direction and adaptation by Ricky Dukes is as neat and tidy as you could wish. A hugely impressive number of ideas push the play to its limits and preserve it at the same time.

“Mark the show”

Dukes exploits the theatricality of Marlowe’s text – this is a show full of shows. Faustus learns about space in a brilliant scene that mimics a modern Planetarium display. The famous encounter with the Seven Deadly Sins takes on the air of a burlesque. Oh, and the Pope dances the hokey cokey.

It’s all a bit mad and there’s a surprising amount of humour. The spirits that are conjured up have some singularly effective make-up around their mouths (take note of when it appears) and come and go with a curtain reveal. Even the blood Faustus signs his name with is fake, and no attempt is made to hide that. Which raises the question – does Faustus really get what he has traded his soul for? 

That Faustus might be cheated of his wishes is frightening. Is it all just in his head? And that isn’t the only scary thing about the production (that make-up again!). With some fantastic sound and lighting design (bravo, Stuart Glover and Sam Glossop) as the clock ticks down to the devil claiming his bounty, there is considerable tension. The final scene left me, as well as Faustus, gasping.

“Faustus must be damned”

A lot of the production’s success is down to taking the play’s religiosity seriously (no mean feat, nowadays). Faustus’ denial of God, his refusal to repent despite repeated opportunities, builds magnificently. We have a battle of minds and ego that is used to structure the show. And Dukes puts proper emphasis on what really damns the man – his despair.

Doctor-Faustus-Lazarus-Theatre-at-Southwark-Playhouse-credit-Charles-Flint-inset
David Angland

All this praise and no word yet on a strong cast… sorry about that. Dukes makes this an ensemble show, with the performers mostly playing a variety of small roles and allegorical figures. If Candis Butler Jones stands out as Lucifer, well, the devil always has the best lines. Hamish Somers and Rachel Kelly also impress as particularly hard working: their appearances as Good and Evil Angels is an essential part of providing a framework for the adaptation.

The shows leads are fantastic. David Angland takes the part of Mephistopheles with a fastidiousness that adds chills. There’s a wicked sense of humour and careful reminders of what’s at stake. As Faustus’ sprit servant, he’s never too familiar – Angland shows an effective contempt for the Doctor. But, of course, it’s Faustus’ show and, taking the lead, Jamie O’Neill could be forgiven for the sin of pride.

O’Neill doesn’t leave the stage during the entire 90 minutes. While managing to convey plenty of awe, as well as passion and fear, this is a remarkably restrained performance. Every movement is measured, and Faustus seldom acts without thinking. And that’s important – Faustus is an intellectual and this is a cerebral play. That this aloof doctor can also connect to the audience and show increasing desperation is a fantastic achievement, making O’Neill heavenly casting for an out-of- this-world show.

Until 1 October 2022

www.southwarkplayhouse.co.uk

Photos by Charles Flint

“Salomé” at the Southwark Playhouse

Lazarus Theatre Company’s exemplary production of Oscar Wilde’s infamous play benefits from Ricky Dukes’ forceful directorial vision and strong performances from a committed cast.

The production is exemplary in the sense that it suggests how to deal with a difficult text. More like a poem than a play, Salomé is hard work. Even nowadays we can see why Wilde’s morbid, exaggerated language was once thought unhealthy…it’s kind of, well, sickly. The production makes the action as clear and concise as possible. Mostly doing justice to the poetry (with the exception of added expletives) there’s even a sense of humour, which the text itself notably lacks.

Salome, Lazarus - Pauline Babula
Pauline Babula

Further credit for Dukes comes with efforts to recreate the sense of scandal the play once engendered. Young Salomé’s bargain with her step-father is made explicitly erotic with sexual tension and exploitation equally highlighted. This is achieved in sophisticated fashion thanks in part to the casting of Herod and his wife (Jamie O’Neill and Pauline Babula) who give subtle performances suggesting the power play between them as well as their characters’ individual lust for sex or power.

Games play a big part. The famous dance becomes a creepy parody of childhood fun – a brilliant move – with tag and hide-and-seek making it queasy to watch. Desire is consistently identified as dangerous – creating tension and getting to the heart of Wilde’s obsessions.

Salome, Lazarus - Fred Thomas
Fred Thomas

Further provocation comes with the casting of the leads, surely deliberately removed from the ‘blind’ casting we usually applaud. There’s a charge – and a challenge – from having a Prince Salome and a Jokanaan, explicitly praised for the whiteness of his skin, performed by a black man. The expectations of the audience (and author) are questioned. That said, what really gives the production power are the detailed and skilled performances. In the title role, Fred Thomas mixes arrogance and fear with desperation, managing to make this murderer surprisingly sympathetic.

Riveting as Thomas is, especially in the harrowing finale, eyes should really be on Prince Plockey who takes the part of the Baptist. Plockey brings a power to the prophet that makes you understand why he is feared. A continual stately procession around the table that is Sorcha Corcoran’s clever set design mounts in power. The focus Plockey brings to this pacing is fantastic and each announcement from the doomed figure creates a sense of dread fitting to the text’s doom-laden tone. Salomé is Jokanaan and Plockey’s show which, despite the title, is exactly as it should be.

Until 11 September 2021

www.southwarkplayhouse.co.uk

Photos by Adam Trigg

“Edward II” at the Tristan Bates Theatre

Lazarus Theatre’s production of Christopher Marlowe’s play has much to recommend it. Director Ricky Dukes’ 90-minute adaptation shows a sharp intelligence: practical, dramatically effective and unwilling to patronising the audience. The story of the gay king’s disastrous reign benefits from strong visuals: Dukes and his designer Sorcha Corcoran, working with Ben Jacobs on lighting, produce some marvellous imagery within this tiny space. The creativity and imagination here is the stuff that makes the fringe so great.

The nine-strong ensemble stays on stage throughout and proves a disciplined crew. Making up a rebellious peerage, the actors ensure that confrontations with the King bristle with anger. Andrew Gallo and Jamie O’Neill are especially strong as the brothers Mortimer, with the latter detailing his treachery with a mix of violence and intrigue.

Luke Ward-Wilkinson takes the title role and goes for a fey monarch who is impish and petulant. Arguably, this cheats the play of some tension (conflicts seems a foregone conclusion). And it also short changes Edward’s relationship to his wife – a shame, since Lakesha Cammock makes a very fine Queen Isabella. But Ward-Wilkinson’s decision is committed and consistent, getting humour out of the role as well as passion. It’s also brave. Dukes’ vision for Edward’s notorious assassination is nightmarish, kinky and demands a lot from his cast. The ensemble are all in their pants, with disposable aprons and gloves. Believe me, it’s creepy. The addition of masks goes too far, only causing confusion – are the same characters in disguise and, if so, why bother? But this is not a scene you’re likely to forget in a hurry.

The finale is certainly memorable with Ward-Wilkison naked and sprayed with blood from the ceiling – another memorable tableau. Yet the real strengths of the production are simpler: tight directorial control and technically strong delivery all round. Dukes and his team have produced a piece of remarkable clarity. It may be too blunt for some tastes, but you can’t argue with its force or the skill on stage.

Until 9 September 2017

www.lazarustheatrecompany.com

Photo by Adam Trigg