The Wasp Factory
Tron, Glasgow, Thu 17–Sat 26 Apr
The remarkable aspect of Iain Banks’ disturbing Grand Guignol first novel is its capacity to continue to fascinate 24 years after its first publication. The story revolves around alienated Frank, a teenager with almost no contact with society, who creates, through a series of violent atomised rituals, a value system that justifies existence. Perhaps the novel still feels relevant because its dark and baroque excesses raise a dim awareness in the reader that our culture itself produces the violence we so fear.
Certainly this ongoing prescience fascinates Ed Robson, director of this revival of Malcolm Sutherland’s version of the novel. ‘We’re looking for that holy grail of modern theatre audiences, the 16–30 year olds,’ he explains. ‘The thing about the novel is that it seems to reinvent itself every five years or so, so people who are older than that, who might have read the novel when it was first published in 1984 will still want to see it, but there seem to be new generations all the time discovering it. It hasn’t been done for about 18 years, this version, so it should be a new discovery for a whole generation of younger audiences.’
This combined Tron and Cumbernauld Theatre production must work a little differently from the novel, for the final shock revelation, that Frank is in fact a girl must be evident from the outset, but Robson sees this as one of several fascinating theatrical challenges. ‘The tension switches from us finding out at the end to the anxiety we feel about when Frank will find about her gender,’ he says. ‘But the imagery also presents an opportunity for the theatre to shift perspectives as well: exploding rabbits, dogs on fire, all these things are enormously grotesque, graphic, violent images and doing them directly and naturalistically on stage isn’t an option, but there are ways of making that grotesquery even more effective. You’d be amazed, for a start, at the things we get up to with cuddly toys.’
As chilling as ever, then.