Sitting in a line in front of Nick Wheatley’s colourful painted backdrop, the authors and actors preparing to read through Alasdair Gray’s Fleck shuffle their scripts and look at their feet nervously, like school kids preparing to perform the end-of-term play.
Their tension is understandable however: this sell-out event bringing 2011’s Edinburgh International Book Festival to a close is a world premiere; and they have only had one chance to rehearse it, a couple of hours previously. Fortunately, their fears are unbound – and this sparkling lineup of literary talent breathe life into Gray’s delightfully mischievous script in a one-of-a-kind performance which entertains throughout.
Gray himself takes the part of Nick in this comedic verse play inspired by Goethe’s Faust, portraying the devil with an impish glee as he makes a bet with Aonghas MacNeacail’s soft-spoken and gentlemanly God. Will Self is on typically laconic form as Fleck, the object of the wager; whilst Liz Lochhead narrates the tale of how far we would go to get what we think we desire the most.
Iain Rankin, Alan Bissett and Janice Galloway have short roles: and although they and several others spend most of the piece’s length silent, it is still a joy to behold the 18-strong cast shooting each other glances and laughing at Fleck’s satirical and lyrical script.
A L Kennedy portrays May, Fleck’s love interest, and the knowing and self-aware looks between her and Self invoke much laughter from the audience, helping turn things from mere recital into a performance to be enjoyed. And indeed, the entire ensemble soon relax into the easy flow of Gray’s words, and within a few minutes seem to be having as much fun as the audience.
As they file out of the tent with perhaps more than a little sense of relief, the authors and actors of Fleck have treated us to a unique performance; a collaboration and live event to remember, and a fitting end to a highly successful, enlightening and – above all – entertaining Festival.