Venue: Hayes Theatre Co (Potts Point NSW), Apr 21 – May 20, 2023
Book and Lyrics: Julia Robertson (based on the novel by Thea von Harbou)
Music: Zara Stanton
Director: Julia Robertson
Cast: Thomas Campbell, Tom Dawson, Sam Harmon, Selin Idris, Dominic Lui, Amanda McGregor, Tomas Parrish, AJ Pate, Joshua Robson, Anusha Thomas, Shannen Alyce Quan, Jim Williams
Images by Grant Leslie
Thea von Harbou’s 1925 novel Metropolis, emerged as a response to the Second Industrial Revolution, when it had become clear that modernity was likely to involve catastrophic consequences, that the powers that be, could very well ignore. In von Harbou’s story, business magnate Joh Fredersen’s ambitions knows no bounds. His efforts to exploit new technologies for unprecedented material gains, turns him blind to the devastating human and environmental costs, resulting from these twentieth century ways of organising labour. There may be a naivete associated with Metropolis, but a century on, it is clear that von Harbou’s early concerns, criticized for being overly simplistic, have now become completely substantiated, and sadly commonplace.
This musical adaptation, with book and lyrics by Julia Robertson and music by Zara Staunton, certainly preserves the uncomplicated tone of the original book (and the famous Fritz Lang film of 1927). Its songs are highly enjoyable, with unpredictable orchestrations by Staunton that evoke meaningful contrasts between notions of the natural versus the synthetic. The plot however, is rarely compelling or convincing in a show, directed by Robertson, that is perhaps excessively stylised, ironically unable to convey sufficient humanity, for its audience to invest meaningfully into any of its characters, or its moral intentions.
There are however, many instances of visual splendour, on a set by Nick Fry whose rendering of classic art deco schemes, delivers satisfying imagery commensurate with expectations derived from the cultural landmark that is Lang’s film. Fry’s work on a human-size puppet that depicts a dystopic robot, is especially impressive. Ryan McDonald’s lighting design too is pleasing to the eye, although it can seem too pre-occupied with the manufacturing of beauty, leaving some spatial configurations to look somewhat deficient. Ella Butler’s costumes depict well, the decay of modernity, but some attempts at portraying decadence, are less than adequate.
Joshua Robson plays Fredersen, and along with Shannen Alyce Quan in the role of Maria, offer some of the stronger singing, in a cast memorable for its unwavering earnestness. Tom Dawson brings stage presence to Fredersen’s honourable son Freder, but it is Thomas Campbell as the mad scientist Rotwang who is memorable with a sense of authenticity, albeit in an extravagantly fantastical realm.
Freder repeatedly urges for his father to do better, but it is hard to tell anyone to moderate their behaviour, when they see no incentive to do so; for some people, the idea of “a greater good” simply never resonates. It makes sense therefore, to resort to the language of power, that they evidently believe in above all else. This then requires that the disenfranchised find cohesion and consensus, for the only way for the huddled masses to be able to participate in the discourse of power, is for us to coalesce, in hopes of forming something threatening enough, that will force a change. When our disparities are this severe, we need to wake to the fact that any amelioration, will only come from our steely insistence, and never from the kindness of those whose hearts are determined not to be found.