Faust ****1/2

Faust is the type of production that justifies having the Edinburgh International Festival.  It is a huge extravaganza that could only have reached these shores with Festival backing and proves how important it is to have an international presence.

Directed by famed Romanian visionary Silviu Purcarete, Faust takes the key ideas from Goethe’s version of the story and makes it into a splendour of set, sound, light and performance.  It contains many visuals that will haunt you to no end.

Is it the best version of the Faust story I’ve ever seen?  Emotionally, it is not.  Though I was very intrigued by Llie Gheorghe’s performance, his isn’t a major conflicted character.  He’s bored when he makes his deal with hell, and though he does seem to squirm from some of the offerings he still becomes a willing participant, and his redemption is hastily handled without much justification.  Because of this, there is very little catharsis to the proceedings, from a story and character point of view.

However, Ofelia Popii is an absolute wonder in her performance and makes the greatest Mephistopheles I’ve ever seen.  Everything she does is so brilliantly played and calculated that watching her is actually much more impressive than the huge spectacle on show.  Yes, she performs her role in Romanian (English subtitles are projected on two TV screens on both sides of the stage which do make watching the dramatic action a bit difficult at times) but her actions and vocal intonations are so clear that one does not need to read a word to know what she’s up to.  It is a marvel of a performance and more than worth admission alone.

But the real star here is Purcarete.  He has created too many visuals to list.  His cast and crew of over 100 people are beautifully used, making a bigger spectacle than all of the fire, blood and stage design effects on display.  And he turns the tables on the audience when Faust really begins his decent into hellish acts by making everyone go to another staging area.  For here, make sure you stand either at the front or high enough on the provided platforms to see because sightlines are a bit of a problem.

In fact, the venue itself may be this production’s biggest flaw.  It was certainly the correct decision to hold this in a large enough venue and not to slim it down in order to fit into one of the theatres in the city (what place could have held the full production?), but it is difficult to get to without a car, so be sure to make arrangements beforehand.  And though the seating for the majority of the play is fine, the promenade angle could have been handled better, both for crowd control and sightlines.

Faust is a theatrical feast of visuals that will greatly impress.  It may not give a major emotional payoff in the end from its story, but the high dividends come from witnessing the art of a true visionary genius and a mesmerising star performance that will be remembered for years to come.

Originally written for Onstage Scotland.

Playing as part of Edinburgh’s International Festival until August 22.

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