The Wasp Factory
Regal Theatre, Bathgate, Thu 15 May, then touring
Our fractured, alienating and individualist society is bound to produce some disquieting anomalies among its youth. In a world where the first priority is self, our capacity to empathise with others is profoundly limited, and violence easily resorted to. This, at least, is the subtext of Iain Banks’ novel, adapted for the stage by Malcolm Sutherland over 15 years ago, and revised here by Ed Robson for Cumbernauld Theatre and the Tron.
In it, we meet Frank (Nicola Jo Cully) a youth who knows himself so slenderly that even his gender is questionable. His quest for certainty leads to the development of a series of bizarre atavistic religious rituals involving animal sacrifice. The purpose of all this might well be to ward off his psychotic brother (Robbie Jack), who’s escaped from state incarceration and on his way back to the island home Frank shares with their twisted father (Ian Sexon).
Robson’s production in front of his own impressive wood cabin and water’s edge design develops an extraordinary variety of theatrical languages to convey the violent baroque of the novel’s tone. Shot through with bleak gothic humour and striking visuals, such moments as when the characters break into Mama Cass’ ‘Dream a Little Dream of Me’, leave one distinctly uncomfortable about the dream landscape these people inhabit and will remain with you long afterwards.
But quite whether Sutherland’s text is all it’s cracked up to be is open to question. At times Banks’ prose is reiterated in long monologues that traduce the action. Cully works bravely in the lead, capturing Frank’s vulnerability nicely but not quite getting the dark, homicidal gravitas that paradoxically accompanies this. For all that, this production shows a constant ingeniousness in its approach to a difficult text, and deftly overcomes its limitations to make for a grimly intriguing night out.