CHRIS Bush’s new gender-swapping take on Marlowe’s Faustus, on at Bristol Old Vic until 21st March, is a play for anyone who has inexplicably real, vivid and terrifying dreams, is worried about a global pandemic or has seen their computer freeze, and in its icy state eat up all their work and throw it who knows where.
Headlong is working with the Lyric Hammersmith to commission large-scale works by women writers, and Faustus, That Damned Woman is the first in the project. It’s a brilliantly-conceived vision of an Elizabethan classic, updated through the centuries to the present day and beyond.
Focussing on the historical restrictions on women’s learning and achievements, the writer weaves a powerful narrative of determination and hope, staying true to Marlowe’s original story of someone who sold their soul to the devil in exchange for (almost) immortality.
Here, Johanna Faustus really wants to know if her mother, hanged for witchcraft, was really all they said. In her quest for the truth she becomes a time traveller, impelled by the help of her demonic assistant, Mephistopheles, and his hidden agenda.
As soon as one thing goes right, another follows to create chaos and disaster. It is hugely thought-provoking, and perhaps the perfect “serious” play to see in these advancing Covid-19 days.
Directed by Caroline Byrne, with an imposing set by Ana Ines Jabares-Pita and effective music by Giles Thomas, this is a show whose success depends on one amazing central performance, and that is just what it gets from Jodie McNee. She’s angry, driven, clever, never off the stage, and always just one nano-step behind the wiles of her master.
Danny Lee Wynter is a disarmingly charming Mephistopheles, with Barnaby Power as Johanna’s father and the devil incarnate. The cast is completed by Alice Lamb (standing in for the indisposed Katherine Carlton), Alicia Charles, Emmanuella Cole and Tim Samuels.
Faustus, That Damned Woman is a timely and brilliant piece of theatre, full of realised ambition, often breathtaking in its scope and grippingly performed by these seven actors. See it if you can.