Opera review: The Wasp Factory

Royal Opera House, London

What is it? An experimental opera/music theatre version of the late Iain Banks’s 1984 novel about a violent teenage boy on a remote Scottish island. Composed by Ben Frost with librettist David Pountney, it’s performed by three women and a string quintet alongside an electronic score. 

The Independent says: “There are no surtitles, and the crude amplification and ludicrously mannered word-setting mangle the sense so that nothing is comprehensible: Frost evidently disdains anything so banal as telling a story or sketching character, both of which should have been integral to the exercise. One’s heart went out to the valiant singers – Lieselot De Wilde, Mariam Wallentin, and Jordis Richter – as they enacted their dismal and dangerous pole-dance for the final half hour, and one admired the stamina of the string-players. But by no stretch could this expensive and mind-numbingly pretentious farrago be described as an ‘opera’.”

They say: Evening Standard: “Three punky women, more narrators than characters, writhe their feral way through David Pountney’s elliptical libretto … the “orchestra”, five moody and minimalist strings, plays second fiddle to Frost’s electronic score, pumped out at often body-rattling volume, obscuring the text but establishing an ominous atmosphere. Beholden to its narrative obligations, the piece never quite takes off, but there are striking images.”

The Stage: “An enterprising and uncompromising staging of a difficult story, this tense, vividly communicated and claustrophobic production is not for the faint-hearted.”

You say: @AlasdairGH: “easily the best piece of theatre I’ve seen. I’ve walked out feeling equally disturbed and turned on. I need a whisky.”

@Rory_Foster: “Did [The Wasp Factory] *really* omit the crucial plot twist at the heart of the novel, or did I miss it?”

The details: to Tuesday; roh.org.uk

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