Like many people, Francesca Goodridge was first introduced to the Faustus myth at school. But she admits it didn’t really chime with her until she read playwright Chris Bush’s unique interpretation.
“I’m led to female stories,” she explains. “And I’ve really tried not to dig too deep into the (Christopher) Marlowe original, because I just think what Chris has done with this production is so new and reimagined and exciting.”
In Marlowe’s late-16th Century version of the cautionary tale, the titular character sells his soul to the devil in return for knowledge and power, but then squanders those gifts playing pranks and indulging in the magical arts.
With FAUSTUS: That Damned Woman, while the heart of the story remains, Bush has placed a female protagonist – Joanna Faustus – centre stage and has her making her demonic pact to try and break free of societal oppression, with the play exploring what women must sacrifice to seize control of their own destiny.
“It’s not just that Chris has put a woman in Faust’s place,” the director says. “What it does really is interrogate a woman’s place in the world today and how much has really changed.
“And it asks us why, if a man in the original is striving and ambitious, we see that as admirable, but when a woman is striving to be amazing, she’s damned – it’s not right, she’s a witch, she shouldn’t be allowed to have that power or that knowledge.
“So, I guess it provokes questions of a woman’s place in society, how we treat women, and today as well, not just through history.
“We travel through history, and nothing really changes.”
Francesca was born in Wales and trained at the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts (LIPA), going on to receive the Theatr Clwyd Carne Traineeship for Directors in Wales.
The 32-year-old strives to champion unheard voices in the work she creates and says this Storyhouse Originals production, which opens the 2023 season, gives her the chance to do just that.
“I’ve wanted to work with Storyhouse for ages; I’m only 30 minutes down the road,” she smiles. “And I really loved what the co-production was, the fact it was working with Paul (Bayes-Kitcher – who is acting as movement director) and Fallen Angels Dance Theatre. I read about that company, and I just thought, that’s amazing.”
Fallen Angels, which is company in residence at Storyhouse, works with people in recovery from addiction, and several of its ‘angels’ have been involved in the rehearsal process through movement improv sessions.
Francesca says: “Something I’ve been really interested in as a director is hereditary trauma, and I’m fascinated about where we hold trauma even if we haven’t experienced it – for example, what my mum might feel that I carry with me.
“For me, Faustus is the embodiment of carrying all that, from what she experienced from her mother. Because you hold so much trauma within your body and you don’t realise how much you’re releasing it when you’re moving.”
When researching the look and feel she wants to bring to a production, she says she works with visual imagery more than words, and for Faustus she has explored ideas of physical theatre and contemporary dance, along with body art.
The result, combined with the vision of designers James Perkins and Victoria Smart, will create a very physical and elemental world on stage.
Francesca admits: “If I could set this play with nothing but one item, I’d just set Faustus on a treadmill, and she’d just run and run and slowly get faster and faster. She can’t keep up, it’s going too fast, she’s addicted to speed, she’s addicted to the knowledge she’s getting.”
While Olivia Sweeney plays the title character, the ensemble will also have a key role in the production and are likely to be present on stage throughout the play.
“In my mind, you’re watching Olivia play Faustus. But if you’d come an hour before, you might have seen another of the ensemble playing Faustus,” Francesca explains. “They’re like women who tried but have been persecuted. So, they’re there, existing on stage, willing the next woman to do it, which is the actress playing Faustus that night.
“At the end of the show when Faustus is taken, it’s ‘let’s start again. Who’s the next woman who’s going to come out? It’s OK, we might fail, but there will always be another brilliant woman who is going to have a go. And that’s what we’ve got to cling on to’.”
For more information and to book tickets for FAUSTUS: That Damned Woman, please click here.