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Frantic Assembly‘s Artistic Director, Scott Graham discusses the upcoming adaption of Metamorphosis – a collaborative piece by Frantic Assembly and Lemn Sissay O.B.E.
“When Vicki Middleton, Steven Hoggett and I formed Frantic Assembly in 1994 we were untrained and beautifully unencumbered. Our naivety was just as valuable as our boundless energy and willingness to seek inspiration in any corner. I highly recommend beginning from a position of knowing nothing as long as you are being brave enough to admit as much.
I got into theatre almost accidently. I didn’t fall, I was pushed by a brilliant English teacher who saw something in me I was not aware of. Having tasted the thrill of it at the age of 16 it would be another 4 or 5 years before I felt brave enough to give it another go with a university drama society. There I met Vicki and Steven and, through several moments of luck and wild inspiration, we found a joint purpose, conviction, and validation. We were going to start a theatre company and we were going to do things differently.
From the very first moment we learnt anything we were just buzzing about how we could apply it and how we could share that learning to help others apply it. It was about using that knowledge to empower, to help others find ways to create. People were very generous and empowering to us. We were passionate about passing that on, whether that was in classrooms or teacher training, other theatre makers or performers, we wanted to share what we had. One of the remarkable outcomes of this was that we found our education work was building an audience for our shows. There was an excitement about what we were developing, this raw and immediate performance style, that was borne from their experience of the creative tools we were sharing. This sudden immersion into theatre and the generosity of others we experienced meant that all of our education work was about accessing creativity and was an invitation to take part. It said, ‘you can do this. Don’t be afraid of making some noise.’
That commitment to sharing, teaching, and training has stayed and developed with the work on stage. They genuinely sit side by side. Over the years I have had the time to look at this relationship and accept that there is Frantic Method at the heart of it. It breaks every task down into its simplest component and encourages creativity through safe, measured building blocks that leave no one behind. It can be applied to the highly trained performer in the same way it can to the terrified novice. And this is by design. I know I get the best out of people when they feel free (and this often happens within the clear confines of a simple task) rather than encumbered. The work happens in a fun, safe environment where we can feel we can push our limits, embrace failure, learn from it, and grow.
In that way, each workshop or rehearsal reflects the development of the company. The limited parameters, the freedom to start from nothing, the freedom from any house style that might emerge from a particular training. This led to us finding (but not being trapped by) a voice that we could say was ours, to eventually establishing ourselves and, as three working class kids fumbling our way into theatre, legitimising our presence. It was always political with a small ‘p.’ It is probably more important and political than ever to keep finding those new voices from those backgrounds.
It might not be immediately apparent how a new production of Metamorphosis fits in with this history and ethos. Frantic Assembly has always focused on new writing, aside from a passionate dalliance with Othello, and Metamorphosis comes with such baggage and iconic imagery but returning to the novella I was struck by the immense cruelty and love at the heart of it. It felt incredibly pertinent and relevant, but I wanted to find a way of telling the story with a different voice. I approached poet Lemn Sissay and he immediately connected with it and enthused about the potential to do something differently. And here we are.
Such a huge title with such huge presumptions wrapped around it! At times I have had to remind myself not to be crushed under its heel, to afford myself the freedom that a Frantic workshop affords its participants.
Kafka’s Metamorphosis is a wonderfully vivid world to explore with Lemn and my fellow creatives. I always say it is important to leave a rehearsal room knowing more than when you entered. We are entering the room in this spirit, free and unencumbered, with an ambition to find and create something horrifying, beautiful, and deeply human. It feels fresh and vital. It is definitely new writing.”