Depictions of hell vary greatly depending on who you ask. Dante would describe hellfire and damnation in great detail over several poetic pages, whereas Jean-Paul Satre would concisely bring it closer to home as ‘other people.’ To Johanna Faustus, driven protagonist of Chris Bush’s adaptation, she cannot imagine a worse fate than the 16th century plague-ravaged London she finds herself trapped in; her healing talents and intelligence ignored, her gender disdained and one “let’s find you a man” away from snapping. She’s desperate to escape, would sell her very soul to do it, and someone is willing to listen.
The Dr Faustus in Christopher Marlowe’s original was more a hubristic intellectual, dissatisfied and bored with life, who summons and subsequently bargains with the Devil himself partly just to see if he could. Johanna is different – she is a woman on a mission, and Jodie McNee performs with whipcrack energy, firing off her lines with machine gun-like intensity. She actively seeks out Lucifer to free her from the awful existence she endures, reasoning that hell itself would pale in comparison and that measured against the men of the day the devil is a ‘catch’. A pact is signed, power is given and Faustus is uplifted, only shackled with different manacles. Her drive for freedom rages through the course of the play, from gender roles to human bondage to mortality itself.