FAUSTUS: That Damned Woman

Reviewer's rating

Lyric Hammersmith Theatre and Headlong present in association with Birmingham Repertory Theatre a new version of the classic Faustus myth. Chris Bush has, indeed, written an epic new play which not only re-imagines the Faustian story, but more importantly sees Dr. Faustus as a female character.

Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus is a play about desire: desire not of one single thing, but of everything; Faustus wants to have money, knowledge, influence, power. This is what leads the character to his destruction as because of his sheer desire he is led to sign a contract and sell his soul to the devil. Bush’s Faustus is a a young woman of low birth living in 17th century London. What she desires is to change the world; and primarily her position in this world. When Faustus meets Lucifer, he suggests he can turn her into a man – but Faustus wittingly replies: “Why change my body when I can change the world it sits in”. Thus, Johanna Faustus signs a deal with the devil and embarks on a mission to travel through the centuries and achieve what a woman could not achieve in 17th-century London. Jodie McNee plays Faustus with tremendous skill. Her Faustus is fierce and passionate and unapologetic. As she travels through the years, she observes a woman’s position in society and exclaims: “the pace of progress is slow.” When Johanna Faustus meets Marie Curie she cannot help thinking how is it possible that this female scientist has a Nobel prize and yet has no right to vote.

Bush’s play is certainly ambitious, witty and epic. It attempts to achieve something huge – and it is definitely an imaginative new version of a classic. Just as Marlowe’s play mixes the seriousness of tragedy with the lightness of slapstick humour, Bush also achieves to blend the two. Caroline Byrne’s production will not only make you laugh, but will also make you ponder on “the pace of progress” in our society. One thing that the production lacks is perhaps the thrill and spellbinding effect of black magic that the original Faustian myth had.

Bush states in the programme of the production that: “Classical theatre is dominated by male leads, and I strongly believe re-imaginings like this one do more than just address the gender imbalance on our stages.” Jodie McNee carries with strength and talent a very difficult part, and is supported by a strong ensemble of six actors who beautifully depict all other parts of this epic journey.

The atmospheric lighting and video design adds excellent touch and contributes in making Faustus’ journey a visually powerful one. This is a production worth-seeing, primarily because it manages to make something new and exciting (and feminist) out of a very old myth.