As theatre’s begin to reopen, there will inevitably be some debate about what the future of the industry looks like; will producers opt for the tried and tested tourist magnets, or risk it all on something bold and new. It’s a similar conundrum that plays out in Luke Bateman and Michael Conley’s digital production of The Sorrows of Satan which, following a successful run at the Tristan Bates Theatre some time back, now returns digitally, directed by Adam Lenson, and filmed at one of England’s finest stately homes, Brocket Hall.
This musical play is based on Marie Corelli’s Faust-inspired bestselling novel, far from being a straight adaptation, The Sorrows of Satan injects a heavy dose of meta in to the theatricality, including updating the setting from 1895 to 1924. Those thirty years or so being sufficient to take aim at some of the well-known figures of the period.
Geoffrey Tempest (Luke Bateman) finds himself penniless and destitute, but armed with a musical play (also ‘The Sorrows of Satan’) which he is convinced will restore his fortunes. But his return to prominence will rely on the support of his patron, Prince Lucio Rimanez (Michael Conley). As rehearsals begin, and actors become indisposed at an alarming rate, Geoffrey and Lucio are required to take on the leading roles, accompanied by ‘The Woman’ (Molly Lynch) and Amiel – a mute musical director (Stefan Bednarczyk).
Having ‘sold his soul to the devil’ in more ways than one, Tempest finds his work being rewritten by Rimanez. There’s a running joke that Tempest can only write in one style, and that all of his songs sound alike, something we as the audience have to witness first hand. As the play within a play is rewritten, the philosophical debate rages on, all interspersed by the comedic musical numbers.
The devil of the piece writes better songs than Tempest, which is a blessing for all of us. Another piece of good fortune comes in the guise of Molly Lynch, who although listed as ‘The Woman’ actually portrays three different characters, and Lynch’s performance is superb throughout.
It could be said that ‘The Woman’ is actually what this play is about; while there’s underlying commentary aplenty, it’s misogyny and the patriarchy that seems to take the front foot, leading up to one particular song that borders on the offensive.
Despite the beautiful backdrop of Brocket Hall, it’s clear that in digital form The Sorrows of Satan has lost some of the intimacy and spontaneity required to fully land the very clever writing contained within it. At close to two hours, the plot begins to wane somewhat and the recurring jokes start to land with less impetus.
The Sorrows of Satan may not fall in to the category of the tried and tested tourist magnet, but its avant-garde style will appeal to many, particularly those with a penchant for all things meta. It’s undeniably shrewdly written, extremely witty in places, and leaves the audience in full possession of their souls.
The Sorrows Of Satan is streaming 5th – 8th May then on demand 9th – 31st May, tickets are on sale here.