Tag Archives: Kit Harington

Doctor Faustus, by Christopher Marlowe and Colin Teevan, Duke of York’s Theatre

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I’ve been struggling the last few days to try and articulate why Jamie Lloyd’s production of  Doctor Faustus, currently on at the Duke of York’s in London, has made such an impression.

The play’s  themes are certainly timely: what makes a man sell his soul to the devil? Is all he gets worth all he loses? Could he not have achieved the devil’s promise without the devil’s bargain? Arguably, few plays raise the most salient ethical and moral questions of today as pointedly and vividly. I’m not sure the robber barons of the digital age are beating themselves up with considerations of conscience in their tropical tax shelters. But they should. The play raises questions we might individually ask of ourselves and collectively want answers to from them. Or at least those are some of the thoughts and feelings this production puts into play for me.

There’s also the beauty of the language itself, with phrasing so memorable we still use it in our every day lives:‘Misery loves company’,  ‘Where we are is hell/ And where hell is must we ever be’;  etc. But this is not simply a new production of Marlowe’s play; Colin Teevan, whilst keeping the main plot and much of the language, has rewritten the ‘difficult’ middle part and modernised the references – here we get to hear of the Panama papers, we get to see the Prime Minister’s father in hell; and Barack Obama bargaining with the Pope is performed for us as a vaudeville sketch; it’s telling too that in this version the scholar becomes a Vegas Illusionist Rock Star, a modest seeker of truth turned into razzling-dazzling the populace with lies: each of the jokes hit their mark; each laugh earned is a point communicated and accepted as true. It all adds up to a joyfully scathing critique.

 

This is already a very successful adaptation. It’s been previously staged by the West Yorkshire Playhouse and the Citizens Theatre Glasgow – where The Independent called it ‘a thing of beauty to watch.’ I’m sure the casting of Kit Harington in the title role was one of the main reasons a centuries-old play is getting a West-End airing. And both he and it have done an excellent job in this regard; the theatre was sold-out, full of young people; and the play itself still feels as startling, vital and contemporary as anything I’ve seen on stage this season.

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This production is a tour-de-force of staging by Jamie Lloyd and it’s useful to compare it to his production of Jean Genet’s The Maids, which is running concurrently at Trafalgar Studios. There, Genet’s tale servitude is played in what looks like an invisible box, with the audience looking on from back and front, and with a powerhouse performance from Uzo Aduba that thrillingly threatens to explode that invisible glass wall that separates the stage from the audience and stab you in the heart. Her performance makes of Genet’s words a weapon. Yet, in spite of that – and it truly is a great production – I felt slightly removed from its drama and its concerns; I understood them, accepted the validity of the critique but it all still felt abstract and removed to me in spite or perhaps because of the maids being cast as black: This adds a dimension of racial servitude to the film’s economic and ideological one but it also brings connotations of slavery and plantations and elsewhere. It’s interesting that Michael Billington’s excellent review in The Guardian brings up the issue of the play connoting the Mistress (Laura Carmichael from TV’s Downton Abbey) as American. I don’t mean to suggest that the play’s concerns are only theirs just that Billington’s aside made me question where my feeling of the plays’ concerns being abstract and other rather than burning questions of the here and now for me — which they should be, as they are in Faustus – comes from.

IMG_4329.jpg            In contrast, Jamie Lloyd has staged Doctor Faustus as a cabaret that could take place in a suburban housing estate of dashed hopes and truncated desires. Soutra Gilmour’s set design, inspired by the paintings of Gregory Crewdson, is sublime: everything looks like drabness covered by a layer of cooking oil. When the characters appear at the beginning, their nakedness feels dirty, repulsive, alienating. The subsequent carnivalesque ascent to fame and descent to hell will alter this. The stage changes, moves faster, revolves, moves forward, we’re even allowed to see the backstage. All with the energy and verve that accompany the play.

IMG_4325.jpgLloyd manages Kit Harington’s stardom very wittily. He avoids unbalancing the play with unneeded and unwarranted applause by having the star appear, sitting on the bog, as the audience enters the theatre and before the play begins. Indeed all entrances are arranged to prevent the show from becoming a rock concert or the church of Harington-worship; and so successfully that Harington doesn’t even get a standing ovation at the end (and this was actively managed to be so). Yet, the play is also made to seem about Harington himself. As he told Nick Curtis in The Guardian: 

‘About 25 pages in we walk into a completely modern play. It really works. My first line is: “They love me, they really fucking love me.”

Game of Thrones must have been great preparation for that.
At first, I thought this [Faustus] was going to be about selling yourself for fame, but actually it is about a man completely trapped in his own head. I’m not sure how much I can say…

Again, thanks to GoT, that’s the story of your life.
It really is…’

 

Later, as the play unfolds, and temptations are laid on for Faustus, the suburban sordidness turns queer, with Craig Stein as an evil angel in a nightdress with a flamenco fringe, half-muscles, half-flounce, tempting Harington. In an interesting interview with GQ, Harington reveals that, ‘At drama school in my third year I was resigned to the fate of being Young Male Rape Victim No. 2.’And that’s exactly how he seems with Stein on top of him.

jonsnowLloyd doesn’t deny the audience its pleasure. If they’ve come to see Harington, he shows them Harington; his body is prominently on display after the intermission and there’s even a buttock-clenching joke thrown in for good measure. But if Harington displays the best torso on the London stage, his performance, albeit, adequate, doesn’t live up to the part. He doesn’t have the vocal power to wring as variegated expression as the text deserves, much less to then theatricalise it verbally to the audience for full effect; and his speaking of the text is sometimes sing-songy. He simply doesn’t have the range. But what he lacks vocally, he more than makes up physically (and fans of Game of Thrones will be interested to know he still sports the hair and beard he’s contractually obligated to grow for Jon Snow).

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The actual opening set at the Duke of York’s

It’s interesting that the best part of the show is not Harington even though he might be what made the show possible. Each member of the cast gets their turn, I’ve already mentioned Craig Stein as an Evil Angel. But there’s also Forbes Masson as a zaftig devil; Tom Edden is terrific as an El Greco-ish Good Angel who gets to illustrate the seven deadly sins as a tour de force vaudeville turn (If we’d been Americans, we’d have given the moment a standing ovation). And Jenna Russell is a terrific Mephistopheles, taunting the audience during the intermission with performances of pop numbers (Better the Devil You Know, Devil Woman, Bat Out of Hell), milking the applause, being both in character but also slightly out of the play in the best Brechtian manner. But if Harington is not the best part of the show, Doctor Faustus does offer evidence of his taste, ambition and generosity.

It’s a really electric show. I loved the way the director uses the solo bit leading to the high note in Minnie Ripperton’s ‘Loving You’ as an indicator of attraction verging on love; it’s characteristic that this play deals with issues of power, fame, TV, the Postmodern condition and the price of inequality with poppy, energetic irreverence. There’s pop music, dance numbers, nudity; all deployed knowingly, irreverently but expressively, to communicate meaning as well as joy. It’s a great show and I was so excited by it that I raced at intermission to buy the program in order to find out who else aside from Harington had made it possible. See it if you can.

 

 

 

José Arroyo

Kit Harington vs Jon Snow

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Walking through Birmingham City Centre yesterday, I saw the image pictured above and I thought, ‘Why is Jon Snow advertising Jimmy Choo?’ I at first didn’t realise the ad was for perfume and was picturing Jon Snow with his shaggy hair and his furs — an essential accessory for Castle Black but also such a gorgeous backdrop to his brooding face — now wearing Jimmy Choo heels through the ramparts of The Wall, perhaps hoping the heels would lift him up from the cloud of melancholy that always seems to surround him.

It then struck me  that I had referred to the image as Jon Snow rather than Kit Harington. That never happens when I see Leonardo DiCaprio flog TAG Heuer watches: there it’s always Leo. And what ‘Leo’ means has changed and expanded over time. ‘Leo’ is polysemic: he is Romeo, Gatsby, Howard Hughes; he is also the characters he played in Titanic (James Cameron, USA, 1997), Inception (Christopher Nolan, USA, 2010), The Wolf of Wall Street (Martin Scorcese, USA, 2013); he’s a great actor and the biggest box office star of his generation; he’s also someone who shags models, works to enhance social awareness of endangered species and climate change and dances like one’s dad.

Leonardo TagHeuer

Now, I have seen Kit Harington in Pompeii (Paul W. S. Anderson, USA, 2014) and in Spooks: The Greater Good (Bharat Nalluri, UK, 2015) so why does he remain Jon Snow? Does it have to do with the degree of stardom? I don’t think so. Harington is as hot an actor as any at the moment; that’s why he’s had big-budget films built around him; and indeed that’s why he’s being paid to flog perfume by Jimmy Choo. Does it have to do with differences between stardom in one medium or another? Again, in the past I would have said yes. But I don’t think that’s any longer true. James Garner, Matthew McConnaughey, Woody Harrelson, Charlie Sheen and many others since at least the fifties have had enormous success on television without being solely identified with one character. Perhaps it’s process. After all, Clint Eastwood was ‘Rowdy Yates’ throughout America for years before he became ‘Clint Eastwood’.

So, let’s say it’s not about intensity or extent of stardom, or even the medium in which that stardom was first created and took hold; let’s say that it’s merely about polysemy and intensity, about the power and range of different meanings signified by a star sign, such as Kit Harington’s face. But in that case, is Kit Harington ‘The Jimmy Choo Man’ or is it Jon Snow. If the latter, wouldn’t it be appropriate for Harington to hand over some of what he got paid over to whomever owns the image rights to Jon Snow? Isn’t the image for sale on the basis of its meanings here not that of Kit Harington but of Jon Snow? or at best, that of Kit-Harington-as-Jon-Snow? I suppose the two are one in the public imagination. Kit Harington’s face and body is what now embodies Jon Snow; it’s how Jon Snow is signified. In the novels, we each had our own view of him. Now Kit Harington gives flesh to Jon Snow; and we like that embodiment so much that it can be commodified and put for sale; it has an economic value; but until Kit Harington becomes ‘Kit Harington’ does he have the right to commodify Jon Snow and attach those meanings to a scent? Does Kit Harington have the right to get rich from what Jon Snow might mean to an audience? Just a thought.

Jose Arroyo

A Note on Mise-en-scène in Game of Thrones, S5E3

In ‘High Sparrow; the third episode of Game of Thrones S5, the series continues to impress by the conscious expressiveness of its mise-en-scène, the way that it creates a sense of place of where the action happens that is tied to a mood the work wants to convey that in turn expresses meaning, partly through the use décor, costuming and lighting on its own, partly through a more overt symbolisation of those elements.

Place is of course central –Winterfell, Castle Black but also and more specifically the Gladiatorial Coliseum of Meereem, the House of Black and White in Braavos, etc. Each place is tied to one narrative thread; it is symbolic of a home, a kingdom, and is itself sometimes a pawn in a struggle for dominance. I will come back to this in a later post and demonstrate how each of these places and thus each of these narratives is visualised for us to evoke, express and also to narrate. But for now I just want to indicate a few things that caught my eye in the third episode.

The episode is called ‘High Sparrow’ because this is where we’re introduced to the character played by Jonathan Pryce but it seems to me that it’s as much about marriage, the promise of its surface, the lack of agency those it is offered to have in its acceptance or rejection, the threat the state of matrimony poses to the newlyweds and those they are newly allied to. And all of these elements it seems to me are symbolised in the still below:

The accent of the wedding scene is not on the newlyweds
The accent of the wedding scene is not on the newlyweds

Cersei’s son Tommen (Dean-Charles Chapman) is marrying Margaery Tyrrell (Natalie Dormer), a much desired union politically. But what’s symbolised by the shot is the horrible ramifications such a union will have on the status of Cersei (Lena Headey) and thus on the power that she will wield; will she now be known as Queen Mother or Dowager Queen? or perhaps, hopefully soon, Queen Grandmother? is Margaery’s taunt to Cersei. Each of those is a step closer to political irrelevance; and the need for Cersei’s plotting to involve the High Sparrow in order to control any such new re-distribution of power and to maintain her hold is perfectly symbolised by the shot. What’s important is not the marriage per se, but the affect of that marriage on Cersei, and the steps she will put in motion to ensure she will be the focus and centre of power in spite of Margaery now having much closer and much more intimate contact with the King than any mother could. Cersei will try her best to do her worst and cause that union to fade.

The use of a shift in focus is also made very expressive in the scene in which Davos Seaworth (Liam Cunningham) gives Jon Snow (Kit Harington) his opinion of what he should do with Ollie (Brennock O’Connor) sitting behind and looking on. It’s an intimate scene, just the two men and the boy, with the shots alternating between those of Jon Snow filmed largely from below in medium close-up and those of Davos and Ollie, with Davos in the foreground and Ollie behind. Note how when when Davos first asks Ollie to recite the oath  — ‘how does the Night Watch’s Oath go again? I bet you’ve got it memorised since you got here’ –the scene places Davos in the foreground but fixes the focus on the young boy, an indication that what the oath signifies will become more and more meaningful as the series progresses. Then when Davos tells the boy not that bit, the bit at the end, and the boy begins to recite, ‘I am the Sword in the darkness, the watcher on the walls, the shield that guards the realms of men’, that shot is filmed in depth so that Davos and the boy are both in focus though the composition favours Davos who is foregrounded. Then when Davos himself repeats, ‘the shield that guards the realms of men’ Ollie is shown completely out of focus. Attention is now on Davos as his listening underlines the meaning of those words for the audience; and the significance of those words, and the repercussions they portend, is then shifted by a cut onto Jon Snow, shown the more powerful by being shot from below, so that he can turn those words to action. Here something as simple as a shift of focus is rendered very meaningful and expressive, something characteristic of the series.

The last scene that grabbed my attention (see clip below) is the one where Petyr ‘Littlefinger’ Baelish (Aiden Gillen) standing on the edge of a precipice with Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner), grabs her face with his hands and tells her: ‘There’s no justice in the world. Not unless we make it. You loved your family: avenge them!’They’re wearing black capes, the hill behind them is wintry green, The wind is blowing a banner on the right bottom of the frame indicating that they’re on official mission, the personal is political here, she looks at her old home — and though everything in her fears and revolts agains the notion, now her future one — and as Littlefinger is foregrounded smiling and about to head on his way, we see Sansa with his back to him and to us contemplating the black ruins of her past and her future, on that precipice and below tumultuous low-hanging clouds. Littlefinger smiles as they ride off, his mission accomplished, and the the camera pans left through the black, burnt, war-torn ruins of her past and future. But as we’re shown the horses riding towards the ruins of Winterfell, the camera moves past them only to settle on two other people on a horse, Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie) and her squire Podrick (Daniel Portman) thus linking the fate of one to the other, linking one story to the other through a now shared landscape, and by mingling them perhaps offering the viewer a bit of hope that Sansa knows nothing of yet. It’s brilliant filmic storytelling.

José Arroyo