Edinburgh festival / Bartleby

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The Independent Culture

After a three-year break from the festival, Red Shift returns with a beautifully designed adaptation of Herman Melville's novella. Dealing as it does with the inexplicable decline of a 19th-century scrivener, is not an obvious text to stage, but this exacting production translates the uncanny flavour of Melville's story into an entertaining and provoking drama. Set in a Wall Street legal practice, the play paints a satirical cartoon of three copyists, scribbling their lives away under their benevolent boss, Standard. Their hectic, repetitive world is disrupted by the arrival of , who gorges himself on work before wasting away with the refrain: "I would prefer not to."

Simply choreographed and tightly paced, Red Shift's production builds from comedy to unease as 's meek insubordination spreads from business to the most basic of social contracts (speaking, moving, eating). With his shoulders hunched around his ears, Simon Startin gives a wonderfully spare performance as the unobtrusive anti-hero, whose tragic abnegation of life finally raises questions about the dehumanising effects of industrialisation and the limits of the liberal conscience.

n Theatre Workshop. To 31 Aug (not Sun)