Book and Lyrics: Michael Conley
Music: Luke Bateman
Director: Adam Lenson
Callous, cunning, and controversial – Satan is equally loved as a literary obstacle as he is a theological adversary. And if the devil hasn’t been the inspiration for a tale of warning, his involvement with the infamous Faust, the quintessential bargain maker, is a baseline for numerous adaptations. But what about a musical about the creation of a musical about Faust? A lyrical play that toys with the metatextual nature of creating theatre and the avant-garde nonsense of aristocratic beliefs and tactics?
By no means a contemporary concept, Marie Corelli’s 1895 novel The Sorrows of Satan finds a desperate and destitute author playing his final cards to stage a show about Faust and has a mysterious benefactor to thank. Over a century later, just off the West End, Luke Bateman and Michael Convey resurrect Corelli’s story as a reminder of just how little elitism has changed. Leaning heavily on the humour, with the occasional twist of the dramatic knife, The Sorrows of Satan secures streaming that revives the devilish comedy musical for a new audience. And you don’t even have to sell your soul to watch…
Seemingly sacrificial, Convey’s writing and Adam Lenson’s direction pushes the initial twenty minutes onto its own sword to set up a spectacular production of twists, sinful delights, and superior musical numbers. The initial introduction and delivery never sit quite right, feeling jilted and almost edging towards unrehearsed, but this comes to be part of Lenson’s brilliance in deception and build-up. The Sorrow of Satan is not merely a musical adaptation of one of literature’s first bestsellers, but also a metatextual piece that draws the spirit of Faust out from the song sheets and into the arcane nature of theatre.
What we come to realise is that the intention to capitalise on the repetitious nature of the songs and awkwardness of the principal protagonists all serve a grander scheme. The devil is, after all, in the detail. And what a devil we have indeed. From his pointed choreography to Vincent Price grinning, Michael Conley is disturbing in his enjoyment of channelling the lord of the damned. The sin in s(c)intillating, and the fun in funeral, Conley’s Prince Lucio Rimanez may be as subtle as feathers in the cat’s mouth, but one cannot question the pure euphoria he takes within the role.
Vocally sound, with an unnatural manner in manoeuvring around their prey, Conley is joined by a perfect ‘straight’ man in Luke Bateman’s Geoffrey Tempest; author, singer, and naïve fool. Vying for the affections of The Woman, played by absolute hoot and star Molly Lynch, there’s little wonder that the temptations of fame, fortune and love become all too engrossing for Tempest – even if he fails to recognise his descent.
Integrity is a dying currency for many, particularly across the arts industry. The opportunity to engage with an audience and secure funding often comes at the price of slashing one’s work to the liking of producers and financiers. Reading further into the story, Tempest’s turmoil over the success of his musical play at the cost of his vision is a decidedly recognisable one. As quite often the devil doesn’t reveal themselves in cloven hooves and brimstone, but black tie and cheque book.
In moments, one forgets this is a piece of theatre, shot with simple cinematography but lit and staged with the cinematic nature mindset. The staging within the opulence of Brocket Hall houses a den of vice and song which reminds us that regardless of where you end up, Hell is where the real party is.
Available here until 9 May 2021