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Friday, 22 March, 2002, 18:16 GMT
Natural Law for Doctor Faustus
Jude Law (photo by Keith Patterson)
Jude Law draws on his film experience in Doctor Faustus
By the BBC's Neil Smith

Three years after starring in Tis Pity She's A Whore at the Young Vic, Jude Law is back at the South Bank playhouse with another classic from theatre's golden age.

This time it is Christopher Marlowe's Doctor Faustus, in which Law's title character sells his soul to the Devil in return for unlimited earthly delights.

It is a role more usually played by more seasoned thespians - Richard Burton for example, who directed a film version in 1967 and cast Elizabeth Taylor as Helen of Troy.

But swap Lucifer for Hollywood and earthly delights for movie stardom and there is an intriguing parallel between the character and the man now playing him.

Jude Law is a partner in the Natural Nylon Theatre Company (photo by Keith Patterson)
Law's character is guilty of obsessive narcissism
Arrogance

In such films as Gattaca, A.I. and The Talented Mr Ripley, Law has cornered the market in cocky pride and preening self-absorption.

These attributes colour his portrayal of Faustus, here depicted as an angry young man too arrogant to consider the consequences of his bargain.

Equally, he does not heed the dire warnings of Mephistopheles, whose bitter melancholy speaks volumes about the torments that await him.

Richard McCabe invests this part with sombre authority, although there might have been more chemistry had the role been played by an actor closer to Law's age.

Juvenile

The biggest problem for a contemporary staging of Marlowe's 16th Century play is how little Faustus exploits his new power.

David Fielder (left) plays a variety of roles including Lucifer (Photo by Keith Patterson)
Director David Lan skims the middle section of the play
The entire middle section is a succession of juvenile hi-jinks, with Law playing pranks on a horse dealer, performing magic tricks or splatting the Pope with a custard pie.

Director David Lan wisely races through these unrewarding scenes, spanning 24 years in an hour so he can concentrate on the hero's climactic anguish.

And he achieves a moment of lasting power by having Helen of Troy appear to Faustus in a looking glass, further highlighting the character's obsessive narcissism.

Conventional

Performed by just seven actors on an elevated wooden dais that divides the audience into two halves, this first offering from the Natural Nylon Theatre Company is never dull and often compelling.

However, given the company's ultra-fashionable founders - Law, his wife Sadie Frost and Ewan McGregor - it is surprising how safe and conventional this debut production is.

Hopefully the box office success of Faustus will inspire them to take a bigger gamble the next time they take to the boards.

Then again they could probably read the phone book aloud and still have punters queuing for returns.

Doctor Faustus is on at the Young Vic Theatre in London until 27 April

See also:

19 Mar 02 | Arts
Law and Branagh back on stage
11 Jan 01 | Entertainment
Brit pack stars in stage spotlight
17 Mar 00 | Oscars 2000
A Law unto himself
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