City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

The Wasp Factory Review

By Lindsay Corr - Posted on 06 June 2008

Show Details
Traverse Theatre
Tron Theatre/ Cumbernauld Theatre
Ed Robson (director), Nigel Dunn (composer)
Running time: 

Edinburgh author Iain Banks’ disturbing seminal novel, first published 24 years ago, has not lost its ability to fascinate. However Banks’ subtext of the individualist society and every man for himself, where violence is easy and empathy limited, still echoes today the bleak truth that the modern culture we thrive in produces the brutality we fear.

We follow the story of alienated Frank (Nicola Jo Cully), a teenager with limited contact to society, who justifies existence and value through sadistic rituals and animal sacrifice, because he knows himself so minutely. His mission for assurance is counteracted by his secretive, twisted father (Ian Sexon) who spends all his time in the mysterious study that eludes Frank and the news that psychotic brother Eric (Robbie Jack) has escaped state custody and is returning to the island.

This combined Tron and Cumbernauld Theatre production revises Malcolm Sutherland’s stage adaptation, which first appeared in the early 90s. Ed Robson’s direction works differently in relation to the final shock surprise. His decision to cast a female as Frank switches the perspective and tension from one where the audience is finding out along with the character, to anxiety about when Frank’s gender will be revealed. But the question is does this approach work?

Robson’s vision is striking and there are some truly fantastic images and sequences within. But the problem is the images are far too beautiful to truly allow for the grotesque, gothic undertones of Bank’s novel. Robson’s set of wooden cabin, water and illumination highlights the emotional and geographical isolation of the protagonist but fails to portray the true bleakness of the story, echoed in Cully’s performance where we see vulnerability, feist and immaturity but none of Frank’s underlying dark substance. Ultimately the decision to cast Cully in the lead robs the audience of the sickening shock revelation and the necessary ironic acidity of this chilling piece that suddenly transforms into compassion for the damaged central character. Some moments are haunting such as the character’s breaking into cheerful song and warrants worry about imagination and what it can chose to inhabit.

Sutherland’s text could be hard to handle, with long monologues to be reiterated, but Robson’s direction is fast paced and quirky, as he strains to keep the action going and dips in energy to a minimum, helped hugely by Jack’s Eric who turns in a beautifully striking performance. The production fearlessly attacks a difficult text and certainly intrigues, leaving you to question emotional repression and the cost of social conditioning.

© Lindsay Corr June 2008

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh until Sat 7 June then The Lemon Tree, Aberdeen from 12-14 June