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Festival finale: Alasdair Gray’s all-star Fleck

The Edinburgh International Book Festival will close tonight with Alasdair Gray’s version of Faust, starring Will Self, Liz Lochhead, Ian Rankin. John Dugdale gets a sneak preview

Alasdair Gray as Nick, aka the devil. Will Self as Fleck, a chemistry professor in contemporary Edinburgh to whom Nick promises unlimited wealth, power and sex. AL Kennedy as May, a student who woos the loveless don. Narration by Liz Lochhead, Scotland’s Makar. Cameos from Janice Galloway as the Earth Spirit, Louise Welsh as May’s best friend, and Ian Rankin as a lawyer.

That’s the appetising line-up for the Edinburgh international book festival’s grand finale tonight, the first public reading of Gray’s verse version of the Faust story, The Comedy of Fleck, a mixture of acerbic satire, community panto, literary game, and the kind of all-star ensemble closing numbers that rock galas go in for.

Licensed by a supercilious God (performed by the suitably white-haired Gaelic poet Aonghas MacNeacail) to offer Fleck a deal, shape-shifting, Earth-ruling Nick lures the Nobel prize-winning scientist out of his lab and inducts him into a demi-monde of bars and parties. Fleck’s subsequent career allows Gray to take pot shots at the media, politics, the law and business, as he becomes consultant to a sinister corporation, with Nick as his spin doctor.

Self, who’s known Gray for over 20 years, has said in an interview with the List that his friend – who was originally a dramatist, writing plays in the 70s before his first novel, Lanark – cast him as the Faust figure amidst a largely Scottish cast because he seemed “keen it should be a middle-class Englishman rather than a working class Scot”, although other motives are inferrable.

Self calls it “an odd piece, but then everything Alasdair does is pretty odd. It’s got all those elements you expect from him, including quite a bit of erotic interest, girls in various states of undress, a series of cheerfully embraced stereotypings and high-flown metaphysics.

“It’s simultaneously deeply heartfelt and quite sophisticated and kind of blindingly naive. To say that’s his charm would be slightly damning with faint praise, but I mean charm on a stratospheric level.”

Fittingly ending the book festival with a verbal fireworks display, Fleck promises to be rather special. When and where else could you come across Alasdair Gray flipping between accents as he plays the devil – or posing as a Hogmanay reveller coaxing AL Kennedy and Louise Welsh, as tipsy students, to love-bomb a Faust played by Will Self?

Fleck is at 8pm tonight © Guardian News & Media Limited 2011 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds