The Wasp Factory – Linbury Studio Theatre, ROH, Covent Garden

If there was one thing held in common by the throngs awaiting last night’s performance of the operatic expression of Iain Banks’ rather odd but brilliant debut The Wasp Factory, it was surely a question: what the fuck? The simple fact of the matter is that not one consciousness in that ante-chamber really had a clue about what they were about to see – even had they read a review (we hadn’t, purposely), it still wouldn’t have done much more than increase the feeling that the turning of this book into opera was, well, unlikely. Perhaps it’s as well.
I’m not sure that we actually moved for the first twenty minutes or so. It wasn’t that the performance was so interesting, so musically dazzling, so well-performed, so creatively staged (though it was all these things), it was simply that it demanded total attention. From the first floor-shaking moments to the final falling of the three performers to that same floor, a floor which started the evening kitchen-surface clean and ended in piles of what looked like mushroom compost, the audience was held in the vice-like grip of the inner workings of Banks’ hero/ine, the severely fucked-up Frank.
I could easily wax lyrical about how the simplest of metaphors create the most complex artistic effects, how the fact that the set is necessarily different every performance, how the three inner sisters are truly autochthonous, and necessarily wyrd, how the book is simultaneously ignored and worshipped, how it was only very occasionally that the soundscape (for it was more this than score) appeared something performed and projected rather than simply being, but I won’t.
I’ll just say that this brutal, visceral, disturbing act of theatre is, or was, quite brilliant.

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