Playwright Chris Bush morphs the reckless, superficial Johann Faust into a complex, morally intriguing Johanna Faust. The ambitious play provides a glimpse into the Age of the Enlightenment; through the eyes of the fairer sex.

"Faustus: That Damned Woman" was co-produced by Headlong and the Lyric Hammersmith Theatre, in association with Birmingham Repertory Theatre. On Tuesday 28th January I saw the classical myth reimagined, directed by Caroline Byrne. Jodie McNee brings Faustus to life whilst Danny Lee Wynter depicts the darkly humoured Mephistopheles. Barnaby Power, Emanuella Cole, Katherine Carlton, Alicia Charles and Tim Samuels all skilfully multi-role.

We follow our low-class protagonist as she operates devoid of Christianity and in the outskirts of society. The play starts in the 17th century, where we witness Johanna’s mother hanged under false accusations of witchcraft. The deeply troubled daughter strikes a deal with the Devil to avenge her mother’s wrongful death and warrants 144 years of life. She possesses the power to move through time, but never go back.

As for the performance itself, all the characters were believable and heartfelt. Johanna’s despair and loneliness as she progressed through time, with only Lucifer’s helper as a lasting companion, was palpable. However, there was one point at which a slap looked very artificial, raising some (most likely unwanted) teetering laughter at an otherwise sombre moment. Despite this blunder, a few well-timed moments of humour were successfully interjected. When questioned about her relationship with the demon Mephistopheles, Johanna responds with the anachronism “it's complicated”. Such quips arose at unexpected times, such as, “Oh, if you knew the lives, we women lead/You’d understand the Devil is a catch”. The sardonic humour was cheeky and refreshing.

Other aspects, however, felt rushed and unfocused. Somehow our feminist hero goes from dining with Marie Curie to dressing up in a tacky 80’s power suit only to break the fourth wall and interact with the audience. The contrast may have felt less jarring and unnatural if Line Bech’s costume design had been more consistent. Mephistopheles’ camp makeup and jewellery were well-executed, and Isobel’s distressed attire suited her. The Devil, however, was extremely underdressed and aspects of Johanna’s future clothes were also underwhelming. On the other hand, I felt Ana Inés Jabares-Pita’s set design was appropriate and intricately detailed without being over the top.

Overall, the ambition of the script is admirable and makes for a nice evening out. Its commentary on socio-economic power struggles for women is poignant and relevant. I appreciated its slight homage to those who were wrongfully accused of witchcraft, which is subtle but not undetectable. Shreya Ghimere said “I like how [Johanna] managed to do what she wanted to do and go where she wanted to go. Mephistopheles, who helps someone as evil as Satan, still has a heart and cares for her. I wasn’t too happy about the ending. It felt like she wasn’t content with all she had accomplished. However, it was a different experience and I enjoyed it.” I would recommend it to anyone interested in history, the social sciences or alternate realities.

By Gaazal Dhungana