Tag Archives: Game of Thrones

Hell is Pants


Duke of York’s Theatre, London, Thursday 26th May, 2016


While Robb Stark appears as Romeo in Kenneth Branagh’s production just around the corner, here we get Jon Snow in a play by Shakespeare’s contemporary, Christopher Marlowe.

I’m referring of course to Kit Harington in the title role, a big name draw to Jamie Lloyd’s reimagining of the tale of the dissatisfied scholar who sells his soul to the devil in exchange for 24 years of fame and glory.  Harington (as a Game of Thrones fan boy, I am genuinely thrilled to see him!) begins in grey hoodie and spectacles – his Faustus is more of a mature student at the Open University, than a cap-and-gowned Don.   In his grotty flat – think retro motel room – he summons demons.  They don’t have far to come: they watch from all corners of the set, attracted by Faustus’s blasphemous utterances.  The mighty Forbes Masson comes forth as Lucifer, a bald man in grubby vest and pants.  Hell, it emerges, is where you spend eternity in the same underwear.  Menacing and darkly amusing, Masson is as scary as he can be for someone who has forgotten his PE kit.  Compellingly charismatic is Jenna Russell (she who can do no wrong) as Mephistopheles – her karaoke opening to the second act is wickedly funny. She has a deadpan unpredictability that is this production’s real treat.

You’ve gleaned by now Lloyd does not take a traditional approach.  The adaptation by Colin Teevan interpolates new scenes that serve to make Faustus’s glory years more accessible to today’s audience: he becomes a celebrity magician, a kind of Derren Copperfield, of rock-star proportions, entertaining world leaders and getting his face on T-shirts.  Harington is certainly charismatic in this context – his Bill & Ted air guitar riffs only become a little annoying, and the way he declaims his lines suits Faustus’s personality from the off: Faustus is a pompous man whose arrogance brings about his downfall.  The set (by Soutra Gilmour) comes apart, and is revealed to be part of his show.  Canned laughter underscores the dialogue – reminding us that everything is illusion, especially what is promised by the devil…

Off come the hoodie, jeans and singlet.  On go the blood, sweat and tears.  Harington flails around, almost Christ-like, as his time runs out.  His relationship with Wagner (Jade Anouka) makes you hope he can be saved, even though you know he can’t, and makes you hope we can find our own salvation in the love of someone else.

It’s an extremely busy show, teeming with ideas that collide and rebound.  Most of them hit their mark.  There is sheer brilliance when Tom Edden’s Good Angel embodies all seven of the deadly sins in turn.  Evil Angel Craig Stein, in lingerie, struts and pouts in a provocative manner.

The ensemble of demons in their pants create nightmarish tableaux, like Bosch in a bedsit.  There are visual gags, even an actual ball gag, and aural gags, and scenes to make you gag.  But while we wish no harm would come to Harington and his marvellous physique, what is the show getting at?

The set closes in, returning to its original configuration and we are back where we started, except a girl lies raped and murdered, and Faustus revolves on the spot, as though dancing with an invisible demon, forever in a K-hole.  Perhaps the whole thing, the whole 24 years of fame and glory have been nothing but an illusion, and Faustus in a drug-fuelled session has let his rock-star excesses get out of control, bringing about his own damnation.  His longing to feel something, to experience rather than study something, is what leads him astray… That Faustus is inspired to conjure demons by something he reads on the internet may be significant…

There’s never a dull moment.  Lloyd pricks and titillates our imagination.  Shocks are quick and fleeting – there’s always another one along in a minute.  This Doctor Faustus is an enjoyable if at times baffling experience, intense and also frivolous, with plenty of dark and nasty fun, played out by an excellent ensemble. Ultimately, though, it’s like listening to someone tell you about their dreams: you wonder what it’s got to do with you.


Faustus in Kit form (Photo: Marc Brenner)

Play of Thrones


Festival Theatre, Malvern, Saturday 3rd August, 2013

The Globe Theatre is touring the three parts of Shakespeare’s Henry VI around the country, giving some performances at the sites of actual battlefields at which actual battles took place.  It’s a neat idea but I opted to see the trilogy surrounded by walls and a roof, such is my faith in the English weather.

Two platforms tower on either side of a bench with a tall backcloth.  This is the simple but effective set on which the drama unfolds, and while you shouldn’t turn to Shakespeare’s histories for historical accuracy, they are a masterclass in the dramatising of seemingly unstageable events, such as the conflict between the rival houses of York and Lancaster.  Shakespeare distils it down to the choosing of a red or white rose for characters to declare their allegiances.  Two men fight in trial by combat, a synecdoche for the war as a whole.

First up is Harry The Sixth which not only introduces the main characters but also establishes the performance style.  There is a lot of drumming.  Varied beats add ceremony, pomp, tension or a militaristic air to scenes, along with other percussive noises to create mood (the cast bash their weapons off the metal set to suggest the clamour of war; a violin bow drawn across a cymbal’s edge creates an eerie atmosphere).  Slow motion is used for some of the fighting, and an arrow carried across the stage to land in a character’s eye, but there is also some real-time sword play that is vigorously choreographed.

It begins with the funeral of popular king Henry V “too famous to live long” and a tough act to follow.  With his successor still young and naive, the Duke of Gloucester and the Bishop of Winchester are at odds.  Meanwhile, the Duke of York believes he is the rightful successor to the throne.  Young King Henry must establish himself in France through marriage to Margaret… And immediately we are thrust into a world of intrigue and betrayal on the grand scale and it struck me how influential Shakespeare’s plays (this trilogy in particular) has been on George R R Martin’s Game of Thrones… This is the one with Joan of Arc.  Played as a tomboy figure by Beatriz Romilly, this Joan sounds like she’s from somewhere north of Winterfell (Ye knaw nuthin, Jon Snaw) Joan is arrested for consorting with spirits and taken off to be burned at the stake.  There is a lot of characters, a lot of names to take in but the costumes help tremendously – the characters wear medieval frocks, each a different colour, creating a sort of rainbow effect.  Later, they will smear red or white war paint across their faces so we can be clear which side they’re on – a very useful device given that the cast double up and treble up on roles.

There is also a vein of humour running through the plays: some ironic remarks and some very dark quips.  The cast manage the shifts in tone very well and also the inclusion of the audience, even though this audience is indoors and in darkness.

The Houses of York & Lancaster.

The second play brings Margaret to the fore, after her marriage to Henry.  There is enmity between her and the wife of Gloucester.  The latter performs some kind of occult ritual for which she is arrested and banished to the Isle of Man! Gloucester is arrested, wrongly accused of all sorts of crimes, and is murdered before he can come to trial.  Shakespeare gives us an early CSI scene in the Earl of Warwick’s description of Gloucester’s body.  Mike Grady has a powerful death scene as the Bishop of Winchester, confessing his transgressions and necking a bottle of poison.  A rebel alliance, led by Jack Cade (Roger Evans) brings comedy: one man is accused of corrupting “the youth of the realm in erecting a grammar school”.  Heads begin to come off and decorate the set.  No character is safe.

The True Tragedy of the Duke of York.

Henry does a deal with York: he will rule quietly but upon his death, the crown will at last go to the Plantagenets.  Of course, Henry’s Mrs is more than dismayed to hear this and will have none of it.  Now clad in leather armour, Margaret is a warrior queen, in a splendid performance by Mary Doherty.  Her arc (not Joan’s) over the trilogy is the most interesting of the lot. The Duke of York is captured and beheaded, leaving it to his sons to fight the self-righteous fight. Brendan O’Hea is a commanding figure as York – his final scene with Doherty’s Margaret is electric – and his turn as the King of France is a scream.

It is a delight to see the character who will become Richard III rising through the ranks, in a delicious performance by Simon Harrison; twisted and limping, he scuttles around the set, fighting and plotting.  The final tableau, a sort of royal family portrait, with Richard holding his brother’s baby son, is chilling.

Through all of this, of course, is weak Henry, powerfully played by Graham Butler, getting across the king’s youth, naivety, piousness, and grief.  Despite the character’s flaws and feebleness, Butler makes sure we like Henry and keeps us engaged throughout.

The entire company goes hell for leather in this respect.  Andrew Sheridan is strong as Warwick; Garry Cooper’s Gloucester and other roles have dignity and authority (although with his beard, long purple robe and staff, Gloucester looks like Prospero wandered in from a different production!) and Joe Jameson is versatile in a range of roles, but really, the whole pack of them merit high praise indeed.

Director Nick Bagnall gives us a trilogy that flies by.  It’s like watching a box set of a TV series and suddenly realising the whole day has gone.  Absorbing, entertaining and inventive, this Henry VI trilogy is a must for Shakespeare and George R R Martin fans alike, indoors or out.


Graham Butler