Faustus agrees but not without getting a lot more for herself out of the bargain, including 144 years of life without aging, and almost unlimited powers, in the form of having the demon Mephistopheles (Danny Lee Wynter) at her command.
Bush adds a new twist to the deal, as instead of travels around the world Faustus is granted the ability to travel through time – but only forwards. She asks that her 144 years be spread across any eras she chooses. After taking brutal revenge on the people who falsely accused her mother, she decides to turn the devil’s bargain against him by doing good, but finds that she’s in Literal Genie territory when she asks Mephistopheles to wipe out the plague, and he does so with the Great Fire of London. The shock causes her to make her first jump 200 years into the future, where she meets Dr Garrett (Emmanuella Cole,) the first English woman to become a qualified medical doctor, and experiences mixed emotions at the thrill of the progress women have made, and the frustration that it’s so slow.
For the rest of the story Faustus takes shorter leaps through time,
The fact that exactly what Mephistopheles feels for Faustus is never quite dealt with is a disappointment, especially as they’re the only two characters to have any significant stage time. Because of the lead’s travels through time and space any Faustus story is going to be prone to feeling disjointed, but it seems a particular shame that the feminist intent of Faustus’ mission – inspired by how women like her mother were abused – is allowed to fizzle out as it becomes more about helping humanity as a whole, and a late turn towards a fixation with discovering digital immortality. Caroline Byrne’s production could do with a little more variety of tone as well, but I liked Ana Inés Jabares-Pita’s set design of a conical, deconstructed wooden hut which feels at home in the 1660s, in limbo, and in a post-apocalyptic future; while Line Bech’s costumes keep Faustus corseted even under her more modern clothes as a metaphor for the various ways she’s trapped. Faustus: That Damned Woman is full of interesting ideas, but watching it feels like you’re always that one step away from them coming together.
Faustus: That Damned Woman by Chris Bush is booking until the 22nd of February at the Lyric Hammersmith; then continuing on tour to Birmingham, Bristol, Leeds and Newcastle.
Running time: 2 hours 5 minutes including interval.
Photo credit: Manuel Harlan.