Metropolis @ Hayes Theatre Co

Declan Dowling
27th Apr 2023

It is easy to forget just how much the world of science fiction entertainment owes to Thea von Harbou’s 1925 novel Metropolis. From Dune to 1984 and The Matrix, a parade of ‘troupes’ now staple to our contemporary science fiction lens, can be seen marching by in the intricacies and overt shoutings of its plot, style and relationship to its audience. And that's before mentioning the film of the same name directed by Von Harbou’s then husband, Fritz Lang’s 1927 masterpiece Metropolis. Whose design and direction you would have no trouble recognising in one way or another, having thoroughly bled between the cogs and gears of the great pop-culture machine for the last 96 years. Its lifeblood of stark German expressionist Weimar deliciousness can be seen spread or flecked everywhere. Those specs, smears and splatters have now come running down the canvas and become one again as The Little Eggs Collective in association with The Hayes Theatre Company present a brand new musical adaptation of Metropolis.

Metropolis with Libretto and Direction by Julia Robertson and Music and Orchestrations by Zara Stanton, is not to be confused with the 1989 musical Metropolis with music by Joe Brooks and lyrics by Dusty Hughes. Rather this offering is an entirely original adaptation of both the novel and the 1927 film. The authors’ attempt to subvert the material from the expected in ‘Contemporary Musical Theatre’ and add a flavoring of dense choral harmony and a quasi-operatic flair was very welcome indeed. The beating heart of the piece Zara Stanton’s music is exciting and dynamic, challenging and traversing the planes of genre, texture and style in a single through motion. Julia Robertson’s skill as a director is incredibly sound, the flow of physical tension, use of space and visual language all were unified and glossy, like well arranged clippings in a scrapbook. However, the libretto, much like a scrapbook, without a guide talking you through it, is a challenge at times to follow and ultimately lacks in a cathartic element. The 2nd act in particular, gives the feel of having had a cursory glance over a plot synopsis missing every 3rd or 4th sentence. Details intrinsic to the story become assumed knowledge in some cases and the excitement and drama grind to a devastating halt.

When it works however, it works - in some instances hauntingly so. The affronting end to the 1st Act in particular sent the audience into a scramble to hide their involuntary sharp intake of breath that rang out into the silence of the blackout. The opening to the 1st act is striking, and the opening to the 2nd electric - and between those moments occasionally a glint of music theatre mastery rears it’s head for a polite but brief ‘How-Do-You-Do?’. To this effect the piece spoke to me strongly of the Mark Baron and Jeffrey Jackson adaptation of the Shelley masterpiece; Frankenstein; the Musical - whose short-lived 2007 off-broadway run had attendee’s returning and praying for it to be revised as it sat on the precipice of excellence.

The unwavering highlight of the experience (as I’m sure will be called from the rooftops of every publication and member of the public in attendance) is without doubt Nick Fry’s scenic design, which hits you in the face like a hot gust of wind blowing in from the set of a Jean-Pierre Jeunet film. It’s rivets, it’s bolts, it’s rust, it’s decaying art-deco delirium is dizzying and downright devastating - never before have I seen such an imposing proscenium arch in such a small space. Fry’s designs also made up the puppet ‘Futura’, of whom we saw an upsettingly small amount for such an exciting property. Ryan McDonald’s Lighting design and Ella Butler’s Costumes were an exceptional compliment to Fry’s scenery, acting in a delightful trifecta of unity. Performances from Joshua Robson (Joh Fredersen), Shannen Alyce Quan (Maria/Robot Maria) and Thomas Campbell (Rotwang) were also of particular note throughout the evening.

I really do like this work, wholeheartedly, it plays on those delicate but very receptive fringes of my taste most pleasingly. And I am sure if you can look past its lackluster moments, and appreciate its stage of development, it will to yours too. In either case I will be keeping my ear to the ground, listening for the rumblings of the heart machine in the future.

Metropolis is now playing at The Hayes Theatre Co.

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Photos by Grant Leslie