Light at Midnight’s fierce and fresh reimagining of Doctor Faustus is devilishly good fun as Faustine gets a short run at the Hope Theatre
“Try the devilled eggs”
Making a statement one way or another about horror in theatre doesn’t generally go well for me. Having declared that it was a genre that didn’t work for me, Terrifying Women proved me wrong; having enjoyed its sequel and stating that new writing is the future of successful horror rather than classic revivals, Light at Midnight Theatre deliver the kind of reinterpretation in Faustine that has me eating my words once again.
Writer Lucy Padwick uses Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus as a jumping-off point for a pointedly feminist reimagining, which gains real power in its increased specificity. Faustus’ thirst for knowledge is usually presented as a pretty self-involved affair, he’s a man so naturally what he accumulates is for himself. Faustine however has others on her mind as well as herself as a sufferer of endometriosis – her ambition is to end all female pain and eradicate periods.
We first meet her as she fumes following an unsuccessful PhD application and as she rages against the patriarchy and suffers a tricky phone call with her mum, Faustine unwittingly summons Mephistophilis. And in time-honoured fashion, the demon Mephi puts a tempting deal on the table, success in her mission to eliminate pain in exchange for her soul some years down the line – is it a price worth paying? Is it better than a deal with God…?
Fiona Munro plays Mephi with an inordinate amount of glee (she also directs). A bit 80s punk, a bit Val Garland from Glow Up, she’s brilliant as she plays Bridget Jones-watching gal pal to win Faustine over to the dark side. And as Padwick plays the scientist with sensitivity, her dilemma feels all the more powerful. She might be tempted by shenanigans with Tom Ellis and getting to meet Michelle Obama, Marie Curie and more but the sense of sacrifice just feels so much more real.
The masque elements of the play are effectively done, all the more so given the intimacy of the space and the limited resources to hand (excellent work from puppeteer Charlie Daniells helping immensely plus voiceover contributions from Comfort Fabian). And you can’t help but agree with the play’s thesis that society would have doubtless done much more to address period pain if it were men who suffered from it too. As it pushes to a blistering ending, it misses the potential for one big trick I’d’ve liked to see it make but it would pushing the boundaries of taste. And as it is, I wouldn’t be surprised if we get to see more of Faustine than this limited engagement here.