Faust, Assembly@George Street, Edinburgh

A devilishly inventive reminder of past glories
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The Independent Culture

Your idea of fun may not be sitting through an hour and a quarter of a strange version of a text spoken in Polish, with no surtitles and with lighting too dim to read the peculiar and cryptic scene commentaries in the programme. It's not mine either. But I could easily have watched this brilliant company, under the authoritative artistic direction of Janusz Wisniewski, all over again, so absorbing and electrifying is its production style.

It brings back memories of glorious past Edinburgh nights - before such artistic hooligans as the Catalan Calixto Bieito kept returning with their limited box of theatrical gimmicks - when this company (twice before) and others, under such theatrical giants as Grotowski and Kantor, dazzled with their stunningly imaginative interpretations.

Central to this production is Mariusz Puchalski's sinisterly Michelin-man-like Faust, at first gross and senile-looking, selling his soul to Mephistopheles for a life of sybaritic and sensual pleasures. As Mephistopheles the black-clad Miroslaw Kropielnicki gyrates around his prey, a driven devil in every sense. In stark contrast to this is the purity of Gretchen, a white-clad innocent.

The gradual descent of Faust into Mephistopheles's clutches is played out against a background of detailed processions and grotesque tableaux of character. Each has his or her own eccentric, distinguishing mannerisms. An aged and gaunt bridegroom with his Miss Havisham-styled bride, a goose-stepping dictator, a trumpet-playing clown, a blowsy transvestite - the gruesome, carnivalesque list is endless.

No doubt Wisniewski had his reasons for incorporating some often obscure material incidental to Goethe's classic, tacky though aspects of it are - the crucifixion in particular. Indeed, as far as a non-Polish speaker can tell, he may not keep the integrity of Goethe's work of literary genius intact but what he creates is certainly compelling. Graphic in many of its 26 scenes, the portrayal of the torture and sacrifice of Gretchen is thankfully low-key. The production is endlessly inventive, however, its beautifully choreographed movement and illusionary effects set against a haunting soundscape composed by Jerzy Satanowski.

It's an ensemble piece, splendidly acted down to the last scene in which Faust and Gretchen end up in black body bags, the music still playing while the processing passers-by looking unconcernedly on - another day, another dance.

To 29 August (0131-226 2428)

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