Review: Faust: That Damned Woman, Lyric Hammersmith

Based on the story of Doctor Faustus, in which our hero sells his soul to the devil in exchange for the possession of all human knowledge, Chris Bush’s Faustus: That Damned Woman riffs on many of the same themes. Primarily, the difference seems to lie in the motivation. While iterations of Faust and his intentions vary widely across the story’s history of adaptations, this version firmly situates Faust’s desire for infinite knowledge as a by-product of something simpler: a desire to know more about her mother’s past. The ability to understand every and anything in the world- along with the ability to jump forwards through time at will- comes as an afterthought. 

As we all know, power is unpredictable. It’s impossible to predict every outcome of any action, and the greater the action the wider the margin for risk. Both liberated and burdened by her suddenly greater than human existence, Faust’s journey through a timeline of European history is shaped by her desperation to perform damage control: using her power to help people without accidentally bringing the world tumbling down in the process. 

At nearly two and a half hours long, this play does a lot of character work (virtually every actor plays at least two parts) and spends much of its time reflecting on the nature of human power and possibility. It theorises on how lives may be touched and influenced, but never seems to really explore these questions in any significant depth. The scale of the conflict flits between the global and the human, and instead of mutually supporting one another, each seems to overshadow the other.

The set, designed by Ana Inés Jabares-Pita and complemented with video design by Ian William Galloway, is excellent. It makes wonderful use of a very deep stage, creating a tunnel shape which speaks both to the different temporal ‘boxes’ in which Faust finds herself, and the passage through time which she takes. At times, however, it feels that the play is working more visually than verbally, despite its long and detailed script. There are also moments at which Line Bech’s costume designs begin to work symbolically, and it would be hard to ignore that these could certainly be developed further. With that said, the costume and staging are perhaps working harder than they should have to: I wasn’t always sure what tone the script was intended to have, and for that reason it wasn’t always easy to follow its emotional journeys. 

While I enjoyed Bush’s play, two hours felt like a stretch. It’s logical but perhaps over extended, walking around points rather than fully making them. The conversation between the original material and the adapted version works well, but not all of its lines of thought are fully brought to conclusion.

Faust: That Damned Woman is playing Lyric Hammersmith until 22/2/20. For more information and tickets, see the Lyric Hammersmith website.