Lyric Hammersmith, London – until 22 February 2020
Life imitates art with the opening of Chris Bush’s latest play Faustus: That Damned Woman at the Lyric Hammersmith. For where the original tale saw Dr Faust bargain with the Devil to exchange his soul for all worldly knowledge – so here does Bush seek to swap the classic parable for a feminist-angled perspective that fails to hit its target.
There is fine work from Jodie McNee as Johanna Faustus and an equally enchanting turn from Danny Lee Wynter’s diabolical Mephistopheles. But as Ms Faustus seals her pact, and in the future encounters Marie (Curie) played by Alicia Charles, we see Bush scoring the most spectacular own goal.
For rather than Curie’s achievements being celebrated for the (true) heroine that she was in her scientific discoveries, Bush relegates her to little more than a sidekick to husband Pierre (Tim Samuels) and where Marie could have been portrayed as a strong, smart and independent woman, Bush and director Caroline Byrne reduce her to little more than a spouse who is both humble and scared. This shallowness of perspective clouds the whole piece, and while there may be some wit in Bush’s words, it is overshadowed by a disappointing structure that sidelines real, factual female achievement in praise of the patriarchy.
The set and costume designs from Ana Inés Jabares-Pita and Line Bech impress, but not enough to avert a disappointing evening.
Faustus: That Damned Woman is a Lyric Hammersmith Theatre and Headlong co-production, in association with Birmingham Repertory Theatre. Playing at the Lyric Hammersmith until 22 February before playing at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre from 24 February and then touring the UK, visiting Bristol Old Vic, Leeds Playhouse and Northern Stage throughout March and April 2020.