Eine Kleine Nichtmusik

Witty and pertinent observations on matters of great significance OR Incoherent jottings on total irrelevancies OR Something else altogether OR All of the above

Saturday, June 14, 2008

The Wasp Factory, Cumbernauld Theatre Company, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, 6 June 2008

How do you turn a book like The Wasp Factory into a play? Actually, that falsely implies that there are other books like The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks, whereas it is a total one-off: a debut novel in which Banks was still groping toward the mature style he would attain a couple of novels further on (with The Bridge) but in which the sheer fertility of his imagination was showcased in a way he has never quite surpassed, even in his Iain M. Banks science fiction.

So how do you dramatise and stage a novel of which much is internal monologue; told from the viewpoint of a castrated teenager whose obsessive and abusive father believes the earth is shaped like a Mobius strip; who indulges in strange ritual animal sacrifices; who has killed three children; whose highly unstable brother has just escaped from his locked ward and is coming home; whose home is on an island in the north of Scotland somewhere?

Well, for a start you reduce the cast to three people: Frank (Nicola Jo Cully), Eric (Robbie Jack) and the Father (Ian Saxon). Other characters are played by off-duty members of the trio, sticking their heads through a profusion of doors and windows in the set, or by dolls brought on by cast members. The sea (and a stream) is represented by a pool of real water. The central event which pushes Eric over the edge isn't dramatised at all, just retailed by Frank with Eric standing behind providing facial expressions and other reactions.

And it works, far better than it has any right to do, thanks to superb performances by all three actors but especially by Nicola Jo Cully as Frank. Frank's world is so bizarre, his actions so completely over-the-top, that it would be easy to lose the audience, either in the sense of losing their sympathy and identification (and these characters are hard to identify with unless you're Hannibal Lecter or David Koresh). Doesn't happen, and that's a tribute to her, and their, skill. Also to that of the director (Ed Robson) and the author of the play, Malcolm Sutherland.

All in all, a great evening at the theatre, and to judge from the conversations overheard on the way out, a stimulating one.


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