And somehow, by stepping outside the story, John Clifford's adaptation has managed to get it all onto the stage. It might be flawed, with traces of both over-writing and hurry remaining - despite Mark Thomson's precise and taught direction - but it is ultimately a glorious, triumphant production.
Clifford's trick is to create a Poet character, give him his own voice and leave him to conduct both the cast and the audience through the play. Aaron Shirley is perfect for the role of the Poet. He moulds Paul Brennen into a troubled, petty little Faust in brown suit and spectacles, and allows Dugald Bruce Lockhart to let rip in his red-suited, arrogant, Mephistopheles, who himself is making a bet with God that he can grab Faust's soul. So the Poet allows us to see Faust's carnal debauching. His tastes of depraved pleasure are all there on stage, from the obvious sexual orgy to the obscure eating of babies’ brains. As the supporting cast emerge from the pulled-back, shadowy set, this is a brilliant and exceedingly clever romp.
Until, that is, Faust wants to taste true love and falls for the pure, virginal Gretchen. Suddenly a new focus comes into play as her room is literally wheeled into centre stage. Clifford has problems dealing with the purity of Gretchen's character, and unfortunately Ruth Connell is not a strong enough actress to make up for dips in the writing.
Yet the end of Part One still leaves you yearning to go straight into Part Two. It is a temptation worth resisting, if possible. Both parts are capable of standing alone and the second is best seen when the first has been fully digested.
In Part Two, the Poet changes gender as Isabella Jarett takes on the role; and the focus of the production moves again, this time onto the issue of over-masculinity and the notion that men's obsession with their penises is equated to the power they wield.
Of the two parts, the second strives to do the most but is the more flawed. The elements of comedy are still strong - Keith Macpherson as a six-foot penis is superb - but the whole does not have the fully rounded feel of Part One.
It is still splendid stuff, however. Ideas and jokes set up in the first part come to fruition and the fundamental nature of evil is explored as Faust falls in love with Helen of Troy and goes back to Ancient Greece - much to Mephistopheles bemusement as he didn't even exist yet.
For all its minor flaws and impediments, this double production (rated 16+) needs to be seen. And early enough in its run to leave time for a second view.
- Thom Dibdin