Soul Searching: Lily Bevan. We ask five of the playwrights…

Soul Searching: Lily Bevan. 

We ask five of the playwrights undertaking a feminine Faustian interpretation for the Globe’s Dark Night of the Soul a series of questions about the project and their approaches.

Lily Bevan is appearing our current production of Doctor Faustus in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse. She has written plays including Zoo, which premiered at this year’s Edinburgh Festival. She was shortlisted for the Funny Women Awards and her comedy work includes Talking to Strangers and Dances with Dogs with Sally Phillips which began at Leicester Square and Soho Theatres and became a BBC Radio 4 series. 

The French Welcome 
by Lily Bevan 
Based in historical truth, in 1604 a household originally from France – The Mountjoys of Silver Street – respond to watching Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus at the theatre, and ask themselves what they would sell their souls for. Marie and Christopher Mountjoy are ‘tire makers’, William Shakespeare is their lodger and Dr Simon Forman their consultant astrologist. Surrounded by intriguing characters, they work for the court and the stage. On this day they discuss Doctor Faustus – its roles for men, for women, religion, science, balance, darkness, truth, devils. People like the devils. The play divides its audience and the household comes to crisis. Ultimately a new bargain is forged. 

What made you say yes to Dark Night of the Soul?
What could be more exciting than taking a complicated celebrated classic play like Doctor Faustus and thinking around it in new ways? I think the work Michelle Terry has started at the Globe is of the highest quality – for example seeing Emilia, I was completely gobsmacked by its ingenuity, fun and modern relevance – so to have the opportunity to be a part of the new questions being posed about traditional texts and styles of performance here; is just thrilling. Yes please, I said. When do we start?

What interests you about the Faustus myth or Marlowe’s Faustus?
What would you sell your soul for? It’s just a cracking question, isn’t it? What is a soul? I mean, that’s everything. And what is heaven, and hell? Other than Donald Trump’s Twitter feed.

I’m interested in when you get beyond the literal ideas – beyond flames and celestial heavens – do we make our own personal heavens and hells? Is a soul the same as conscience, a spirit, ethics? In most stories male protagonists set off for adventures; they have personalities and wills to be corrupted, or thrown off course; it’s great for them. And the women have been there passing them their coats to keep them warm on their way. I’m interested in when we say bugger the coats, let’s go ourselves!

What are you hoping to explore with your piece?
ow women respond to the Faustus question – and how cultural-historical context might affect that. The philosophy of choice. Jokes by candlelight.

How do you start to write something?
I read and write notes everywhere. Screens. Scraps. Napkins. Then I write a lot of nonsense. Then I edit. Then I send it to my long-suffering friends to read and give me feedback. Then I edit. Repeat.

What made you want to be a writer?
Watching plays since I was tiny. For me, plays are other worlds, and writing is a way in to drawing and exploring those. So is lighting. Sound. Acting. There are a lot of creative conjurors involved in every play – working together is the other reason I wanted to be part of a creative community.

How important is storytelling?
Storytelling is vital. And for women, it is extremely vital right now, because we are suddenly being given a bit more space to step into the narrative, so let’s go! Millions of women behind us have survived and strived and waited for us to walk forward. Let’s tell stories about them, about us and definitely not stories of women lolling about on chaise longues waiting to be seduced. Women busy, logical, courageous, weird, wonderful.

Would you say that there are any themes you are particularly interested in across your work?
Women. Humour. Pain. Change. Inner discovery. Sacrifice. Animals. Awkwardness. Silence. Disaster. Love. Pirates seem to come up quite a lot.

Do you like to be involved in the rehearsal process?
As much as possible. I’m a performer so I’ll perform in my piece too. I think I saw a photo of Lin-Manuel Miranda wearing a t-shirt that said ‘Rehearsals are the best bit’. And he knows everything.

What’s it like seeing your work being performed?
It’s fun. I’m quite fussy about details, so if a bit doesn’t sound right I find it easy to get annoyed with myself. That’s why I write a lot of drafts and get actors to read them out loud as much as possible when I’m working so I can hear it. Actors give brilliant feedback too.

What’s it like to be working on a production in chorus with other writers?
Fantastic. The challenge with writing is that it’s isolating. How brilliant to be given a team. Our Dark Night of the Soul writers are really strong – I’m thrilled to get to know them better and work alongside them on this innovative project. I’d sell my soul to be a part of it… or wait… would I?

Dark Night of the Soul: The Feminine Response to the Faustian Myth opens in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse on 29 December.

On four evenings we will perform a selection of the pieces together as ‘Anthology Performances. Check the website to see when Lily’s response, The French Welcome, will be performed.

This interview first appeared in Globe Magazine, available to buy in the Globe Shop. Become a Member of Shakespeare’s Globe to receive the magazine three times a year.

Photography by Idil Sukan