REVIEW: THE SORROWS OF SATAN (Tristan Bates Theatre) ★★★★

Would you resist fame, riches and love if all you had to do was accept the offer?

Despairingly poor playwright Geoffrey Tempest (Simon Willmont) owns nothing but the clothes he is wearing and the script of his musical play “The Sorrows of Satan”, based on the story of Faust. He skulks his way to a reading at the home of rich foreign benefactor Prince Lucio Rimânez (Dale Rapley) where it soon becomes clear that he will have to step in as Faust and Lucio as the Devil alongside leading Lady Sibyl (Claire-Marie Hall). Mute servant Amiel (Stefan Bednarczyk) accompanies on the piano. With nothing left to lose but his reputation – not that he has one – Geoffrey willingly soaks up the bigger and bolder promises Lucio makes. Pretentious Tempest only starts to falter once Lucio starts touching the obscure, complicated music and tone of the play, wanting to make it into a mainstream crowd-pleaser with catchier tunes and the potential for chorus girls. Art starts to imitate fictional life during this show within a show, portraying the struggle between artistic integrity, fame, principles, financial ruin and stability, and not least of all sin.

“The Sorrows of Satan” is not one huge meta-comment on itself and even becomes philosophical in its representation of Satan’s yearning for eternal redemption.

The play mirrors a real-life conflict of popularism and complexity the backstage team of director Adam Lenson and writers/composers Luke Bateman and Michael Conley faced with another show they wanted to stage. The plot is based on what is widely considered the first ever best-seller novel, the eponymous Sorrows of Satan by Marie Corelli from 1985. The adaptation is set in London’s 1924 to draw a stronger connection to old-school musical theatre.

The set is a stylish grey and black drawn background with splashes of orange. The music at its best is celebratory of “the good old time of musicals”, catchy and joyful, and the purposefully bad songs and lyrics by Tempest are cringingly funny. Despite playing a mute Stefan Bednarczyk has incredible stage presence and manages to steal the show when the script allows him to. Dale Rapley is an amalgam of suave, silly, intimidating and sad, Claire-Marie Hall wonderfully affected and charming, and Simon Willmont the perfect torn avant-garde yet naive author. The dialogue is positively Wildean and the incredibly clever humour sets this play apart (by far!) from other productions. It comes as a pleasant surprise how “The Sorrows of Satan” feels so refreshing in its poignancy, its intellectual eloquence, and yet shows such love for theatre traditions and classic source texts.

In short, it’s a play almost worth selling your soul for.

Reviewed by Lisa Theresa Downey-Dent
Photo: Ben Radford Photography

THE SORROWS OF SATAN plays at the Tristan Bates Theatre until 25 March 2017