A sinister world unfolds in gripping, forceful music theatre performance

The Wasp Factory

Ben Frost, David Pountney

You are looking at a performance from our archive

The Wasp Factory recounts the disturbing acts of Frank Couldhame, a troubled 16 year old teenager living on a remote Scottish island. In this isolated environment, Frank has retreated into a self-invented universe of obsessions and rituals, in which he acts like a cruel God ruling over life and death. When Frank’s brother Eric escapes from a psychiatric institution, his world is in danger of collapsing and Frank is confronted with a truth that nobody could have thought possible, even not Frank himself. Combining a bleak stage design with a mix of extreme sonic structures, classical, minimalist and raw pop music, composer and director Ben Frost has succesfully transformed Iain Banks’ chilling cult novel into gripping, forceful music theatre.
Programme Icoon

Background information

Ben Frost's music theatre production The Wasp Factory, based on Iain Banks' cult novel of the same title, has caused quite a sensation since it premiered at the Bregenzer Festspiele on 1 August last year. Moving on to the Linbury Studio Theatre of the Royal Opera House in London, the production sold out all performances.
Frost (1980) is a young Australian composer and producer who over the last ten years has built a remarkable body of work in experimental and electronic music. The Wasp Factory marked his debut as a director and the first time he had taken a text as a point of departure for a performance. His greatest challenge was to get to grips with the compulsive, sometimes gruesome narrative, but he more than succeeded in turning it into an overwhelming piece of music theatre, which seizes you by the throat from the moment the opening music starts, never letting go until it's finished.

The Wasp Factory tells the story of troubled teenager Frank Cauldhame, who lives on a remote Scottish island. In an isolated community, with no mother around, he is left to his own devices by his reclusive father. Frank has invented his own warrior cult and believes he can control the world around him with words, having made up some sinister names for various places that define and protect the borders of his territory, such as the Sacrifice Poles, the Boiling Room, the Ice Chamber and the Volt Room. The Wasp Factory is a device which he found on a dump and has rebuilt to use as a cruel instrument to predict the future.

The Wasp Factory was the first novel by the Scottish writer Iain Banks. When it was first published in 1984, it was initially greeted with some controversy, due to its gruesome depiction of violence; at the same time it was also immediately acclaimed as a work of great importance, be it from a completely unknown author. In a comprehensive poll in 1997 The Wasp Factory was voted as one of the top 100 books of the 20th century.
The 'Wasp Factory' of the title is a huge clock face encased in a glass box, salvaged from the local dump. Behind each of the 12 numerals is a trap which leads to a different ritual death (for example burning, crushing, or drowning in Frank's urine) for the wasp that Frank puts into the hole at the centre. Frank believes the death 'chosen' by the wasp predicts something about the future. The imminent return of his brother Eric, who has escaped from a mental asylum, builds up the suspense, reaching its climax when Frank makes a shocking discovery, a secret that undermines all that he believed about himself.

Writer David Pountney adapted Banks' novel for this theatre performance, a very complex task, as the book is almost completely in the interior monologue of the disturbed teenager, whereas opera as a genre is dependent on interaction and dialogue. Director and composer Ben Frost has solved this problem by having the inner thoughts of the protagonist conveyed by three singers (Lieselot de Wilde, Mariam Wallentin and Jordin Richter). Dressed in scruffy punk outfits, they sing and act on a stage filled with loose earth. Frost has created three-dimensional sonic structures which envelop the audience in extremes of volume and texture. The music is a mix of minimal music, pop and noise, whilst Mirella Weingarten’s set designs evoke a bleak, natural landscape, in their own way working towards the decisive twist in the performance.

Biographies

Born in Melbourne in 1980, the Australian composer and director Ben Frost moved to Reykjavik in Iceland in 2005, where he founded the musicans' collective and record label Bedroom Community with his friends Valgeir Sigurðsson and Nico Muhly. His albums, including Steel Wound (2003), Theory of Machines (2007) and BY THE THROAT (2009), fuse intensely structured sound art with militant post-classical electronic music, shape-shifting physical power with immersive melody, concentrated minimalism with fierce, rupturing dark metal. In 2010 he was invited by Brian Eno to take part in a one year-long collaboration programme, one of the outcomes of which was Sólaris; a re-scoring of the Tarkovsky classic. Since then, Eno and Frost continue to work together on a range of projects both in and outside of the recording studio.
Frost regularly works with other musicians and artists. He was involved with the production of studio albums such as Tim Hecker’s Ravedeath 1972 and Colin Stetson’s New History Warfare and on various Bedroom Community releases. On the stage Frost has produced scores for a range of choreographers, including Wayne McGregor, Akram Khan and Anouk van Dijk, and for the director Falk Richter. In film, he composed the score for Sleeping Beauty by Julia Leigh, and in the visual arts, Frost travelled deep beyond the frontlines of war-torn Eastern Congo with artist Richard Mosse to produce The Enclave, a multi-channel video and sound installation that premiered at the Venice Biennale in 2013. These various collaborations and alliances underline Frost’s continuing fascination with finding ways of juxtaposing music, rhythm, technology, the body, performance, text, art, beauty and violence - combining and coalescing the roles and procedures of various artistic disciplines in one place. His opera The Wasp Factory marks Frost's directorial debut.

The English theatre and opera director and librettist David Pountney (1947) was born in Oxford and educated at St. John's College, Cambridge. As Director of Productions at the English National Opera (1983 – 1993) he directed more than twenty operas, including Doktor Faust, Rusalka, Hänsel und Gretel, The Fairy Queen and Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk.He was intendant at the Bregenzer Festspiele until 2013, when he was appointed chief executive and artistic director of the Welsh National Opera. Pountney has directed more than ten world premieres, including The Passenger and three operas by Sir Peter Maxwell Davies for which he also wrote the librettos. Pountney has translated many operas from Russian, Czech, German and Italian into English. In 2013 he directed three new productions, all three operas by Philip Glass: Satyagraha in Rotterdam, The Voyage at the Metropolitan Opera in New York and Die Spuren der Verirrten in Linz. David Pountney was also the director on a new production of Mozart's Die Zauberflöte, which was performed in 2013 on the floating stage on Lake Constance at the Bregenzer Festspiele and will be reprised there this summer.

Credits

libretto
David Pountney, based on the novel by Iain Banks
direction, music
Ben Frost
associate director
Sasha Milavic Davies
set design
Mirella Weingarten
costumes
Boris Bidjan Saberi
light
Lucy Carter
sound
Daniel Rejmer
performed by
Lieselot De Wilde, Jördis Richter, Mariam Wallentin
music performed by
Reykjavik Sinfonia (string quintet)
production
HAU Hebbel am Ufer, Laura Berman_Next
associate producer
Sasha Milavic Davies
coproduction
The Royal Opera, Holland Festival
commissioned by
Kunst aus der Zeit / Bregenz Festival
with support by
Hauptstadtkulturfonds Berlin, Nordic Culture Point

‘Verstörend, bizarr, intensiv, trancig, genial’

Volksblat

This performance was made possible with support by