I— Putting on the Fritz

Mark Fisher meets the multi- national team bringing Fritz Lang’s Metropolis to the stage.

Since the end of the Glasgow‘s Glasgow exhibition. any drama performance in the Arches has taken place in the relatively small studio adjacent to the bar. But if there was one theatre in Scotland with ready-made facilities to produce atmospheric promenade productions, the Arches is undoubtedly it. Andy Amold‘s company still has access to the cavernous series of brick-lined rooms which echo to the rumble of trains coming in and out of Central Station above, and which present endless possibilities to anyone keen to take theatre away from its traditional proscenium setting.

This is just what Arnold is doing in conjunction with sometime art gangster Ian Smith and Russian director Uri Solovyev, who have come together to transform the 67-year-old science fiction thriller Metropolis from celluloid to the three dimensions of theatre. ‘It’s a very theatrical film,’ says Arnold, ‘with an expressive style of acting and most of it takes place underground in the Worker’s City. It just seemed that the Arches is the perfect site. We are building a set, but we could have done without one just because of the natural ambience.

The source material also presented a suitable opportunity for the Arches Company to join forces with the Theatre of Chamber Drama from Rostov-on- Don, because working from a silent film, visuals, not language come to the fore. ‘We thought it was a very interesting project,’ says Solovyev, who has only recently seen the movie for the first time because it


Metropolis: black and white theatre

was outlawed by the communist regime. ‘We have a similar theatre in Rostov so all the ideas and methods of work are very familiar. We were thrilled to become part of it.’

The division of labour between the collaborators appears to be a amicable one. Arnold and Smith are concentrating on telling a clear story. while Solovyev is specialising in the expression of the internal workings of characters‘ minds. ‘The language problem,’ says Ian Smith, about rehearsing via a translator, ‘means that we’re being more and more expressive, which is going to come in really handy during the performance. We’re performing to each other to get our ideas across.‘

After watching the film a few times and familiarising themselves with the story-line, the

directors agreed to put it aside and to concentrate on creating a piece unique to the theatre. ‘There are lots of things that you have to adapt,‘ says Arnold. ‘at the same time keeping true to the style of the film and the main action. The atmosphere and the scale will be similar.‘ indeed, with a cast of 55 made up of volunteer students and artists. plus a band of musicians playing a through-composed soundtrack, there will be nothing modest about the production.

‘I was very impressed when I saw the film,‘ says Solovyev about Fritz Lang’s vision of a world populated by alienated workers struggling against brutal machinery and violent robots. ‘From our point of view it is a concentrated history of our own country in the form of a fairytale. You can see lots of points of pain and tragedy for our own people.‘

‘From our point oi view it is a concentrated history oi our own country in the form oi a iairytale.’

it is this fairytale aspect, rather than the superficial science fiction, upon which the production bases itself. Arnold argues that far from being dated, the robot in the film touches just the same nerves as Rnbocop, but even if that was not the case, the root ofthe story is timeless. In terms of style, the production will celebrate the low-tech appeal of steam kettles and Van de Graaf generators with a wry, Terry Gilliam-like love of gadgetry, but the underlying mood will tap into something more substantial than post-modem irony. ‘We don‘t read the film as science fiction at all,‘ says Solovyev, ‘it‘s a timeless tale which tackles eternal problems of humanity, of relationships between human beings and their values.‘

‘We’re working on the atmosphere of the space,’ says Arnold, ‘and I think at times the audience might be quite unsettled by what‘s going on. There is a humour in it, but it is a tragic piece. There‘s a difference between melodrama and expressionism and this is expressionism. There's some very dark, grotesque humour. but mainly it will move people.‘ Metropolis, Arches Theatre, Glasgow. Wed 1 7 Nov—Sat 4 Dec.


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The List 5—18 November i993 e7