Faust: Part I, Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh <!-- none onestar twostar threestar fourstar fivestar -->

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The Independent Culture

John Clifford has done a sophisticated editing job - two years in the making - on Goethe's epic, which, if staged in the original version, runs for something like 20 hours - without interval. At two hours each, Clifford's two-part adaptation is pacey, contemporary and dramatic, running fast and loose with the original while retaining a crucially poetic bent amid the not-so-literary profanity.

Opening with a part-poignant, part-witty take on Goethe's opening scene as the "playwright" ponders his oeuvre, a cast of actors stand by, waiting for the play to be "made". We are then transported to Faust's study.

The story of Faust, the dissatisfied egghead who's read it all and found it lacking, is the tale of a man who sells his soul to the Devil in order to gain infinite knowledge, youth and fleshly pleasures. It's all going to plan - the Devil's, of course - until Faust falls for pure-at-heart Gretchen, the girl with salvation in her eyes.

In many ways, this is a hugely impressive production, from Francis O'Connor's bold and beautiful Renaissance space-age set and Mike Windle's atmospheric videography, to music director Philip Pinsky's subtle soundtrack (aside from a jarring bit of Euro-folk), directed with instinctive feel for the musical strengths of a fine ensemble cast.

As the damned duo, Paul Brennen and Dugald Bruce-Lockhart are quite excellent. Brennen's Faust is a bag of irritating nerves, and all too convincing as he gets in touch with his pleasure centre. Bruce-Lockhart's Mephistopheles is an urbane thug who enjoys the temptations of his work, but still evinces a certain nostalgia for what might be called "better times". Debating the merits of God, he gushes to no one in particular: "What a time we had in the wilderness! Only intelligent conversation I've had in 2,000 years."

But, while language (often in a hue rather too predictably blue) is at the forefront of Clifford's adaptation, his "pleasures", it should be said, are all about the flesh. When Faust is taken to a "beauty parlour" to regain his youth, he watches a tableau involving two baboons and a cat inflating bosoms and genitalia to vast proportions on a conveyor belt of human vanity. Later, the Devil rapes a prostitute with horrific viciousness. This is shock moralising, testing our delineation of good and evil and exhausting the palate with fornication as hell-creatures gather in the shadows.

In rep with 'Faust: Part II' to 8 April (0131-248 4848; www.lyceum.org.uk)

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