wasptour.htmlTEXTMSIE-$-$mBINHThe Wasp Factory - stage review

The Wasp Factory : Stage review


Cruelly, madly, deeply disturbing : Robin Thorber

The Wasp Factory, Barrow-in-Furness/touring

ONE WAY to adapt a novel for the stage, as Ken Campbell once said, is to get your secretary to type out all the bits in quotation marks. The other way is to deconstruct the ideas in the book and reinterpret them.

That's what director Richard Gregory has done with Iain Banks's first, cult novel, a tongue-in-cheek exercise in the comedy of cruelty which examines just how nasty you can get and still come out smiling.

Banks's book is apparently about a disturbed 16-year-old - a solitary, obsessive fetishist with a macabre, sadistic sense of humour, the sort of person who takes butterflies apart to see how they work and kills children for fun by flying them on a kite.

He'd probably now be diagnosed as autistic or psychotic - but it's Frank's brother, Eric, who's a certified nutter and his loopy, hippy father who seems relatively sane. It's a Catcher In The Rye for the me generation.

Gregory's 75-minute straight-through production, for a Northern Stage tour of the north, was defiantly premiered this weekend at Forum 28 in Barrow-in-Furness, where it is followed by a more predictable amateur Ruddigore. But 700 people turned out to see it, perhaps encouraged by the novel's reputation, and less than a handful walked out.

Simon Banham's set is a confined blue box, with a circular sandpit suggesting the book's rolling dunes, and a vertical ladder suggesting all sorts of weird theosophies. Richard Clews, as the father, is shaven-headed and sinisterly robed like a medieval cleric. Jane Arnfield splits Frank's personality with Matthew Dunster, who also plays Eric, in black casuals.

It's not a conventional, naturalistic replay of the book. Gregory uses the text like musical themes and his performers like instruments. He uses puppets and music, movement and light.

The dance sequences, with the tortured, jerky, self-mutilating movements of the deeply troubled, spill into the gestures and body language of the spoken text; the arrogant anguish of the ladder work spills into the breathtaking gymnastics of the circus.

You're left with a sense of alienation and dissociation so complete that it literally takes your breath away - here is Philip Larkin's "They fuck you up, your mum and dad" made flesh. You're not even sure, because of the casting, whether Frank and Eric are two people or one.

What is certain is that casual killing, on a caprice, is not just revenge for parental detachment but an almost valid response to being born into an absurd world, a frivolous fault in a venal universe. The Wasp Factory rattles your foundations as it challenges your preconceptions of an evening in the theatre.


This is a review of a new stage adaptation of Iain Banks' The Wasp Factory that appeared in the UK national newspaper "The Guardian" on 06.02.1996. Thanks to Marcus Ogden for emailing it to me. HTML markup by Simon Walley.



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