What if Dr Faustus was a woman? One who sold her soul to the devil to gain independence, in an era when women were the property of men, and then used her powers to take vengeance, heal people, and finally settle down to a quiet life of gardening?
Well, that’s roughly how Chris Bush reimagines the Faustus myth in his new play, Faustus: That Damned Woman, now on at the Lyric Hammersmith. I saw it last night, and although it had some interesting moments, it never quite landed for me. I enjoyed the complex female protagonist, the way it questioned whether being completely powerless in a world dominated wasn’t itself a version of hell, such that the downside to selling one’s soul to get out of it might not be so obvious. Plus, it framed the motivation for that sale as a desire for knowledge (rather than power), which resonates with my understanding of the story of Eve and the Fall.
On the other hand, it was performed in that intense and gritty register common to lesser Shakespeare plays, and which gives the impression of relentless anguish devoid of beauty—which, as I write it, strikes me as another way of describing hell.
Much more pleasant was the company and conversation before, during intermission, and after the play. Aleida, whom I met by chance a couple of months ago at an RSC performance at the Barbican, was back in town from Geneva for a few more days of research at the British Library. She had suggested meeting for more theatre and booked our tickets for Faustus.
Our organic affinity continued as before. We continued to discover parallels between ourselves: American expats, enthusiastically literary, both with a connection to Seattle, and, it turns out, both with twin sisters. We talked at length of her research and thesis, some of the things that are keeping me busy at work, and our reactions to the play (hers were initially more negative than mine but seemed to warm in the second act as mine cooled).
It’s not obvious that we’ll meet again, but I hope we do. As an adult, I find it’s so rare to have a spontaneous connection with a stranger—wouldn’t it be lovely to cultivate it into something more like a real friendship in times to come?