Q&A with Frantic Assembly's Scott Graham

19 Dec 2023
Scott Graham (Artistic Director of Frantic Assembly) in rehearsals for Metamorphosis

We sat down with Metamorphosis director Scott Graham to talk about Frantic Assembly's next visit to BOV in Jan 24...

Why did you choose to stage Metamorphosis ?

It was a suggestion or provocation from an actor/producer called Fraser Ayres. I had no intention of going near it as it had established itself as one of those stories that everyone thinks they know and has an opinion on. Fraser had a very personal take on the story that completely reinvigorated the potential for me. It was personal and was about perception, how we are defined and how we are seldom in control of that narrative. This felt like a way of approaching the story that made utter sense to me, especially at a time when it is so easy for any of us to be defined by what we say and do in an instant. Social media could run with that definition and within seconds we could be defined as monstrous. he speed and power of that shift is immense.

The focus shifted a little when I began working with Lemn Sissay but that fascination with perception remained. We wanted to explore what would make someone less than human, suddenly monstrous within their environment. Was it an action? Was it a shift in their environment out of their control? Was it really as sudden and without warning as an initial reading of Kafka’s novella might suggest?

Returning to the novella was key. As I said, it is a story many think they know but many do not get beyond it being about ‘a man who wakes up as a bug’. That is to miss the brutality of a system that crushes that bug as well as the parasites that rely upon him working himself to death. It is an incredibly current story of debt and how it controls and destroys us. It is a heartbreaking story of a transformation from bread winner into burden. From defined as human to something less than.

Metamorphosis. Photo by Tristram Kenton

What is it about Lemn that made him the perfect person to adapt Metamorphosis for the stage?

I wanted someone who would bring something different to the process. I was really excited about the potential lyricism of Lemn’s voice. There have been previous adaptations that have left deep impressions and I thought there was no point in playing it safe. It was daunting and the only way was to make it our own. Lemn was up for us getting to the heart of the novella but finding a way of retelling that story in a way that felt fresh and clearly ours. We have said very faithful to the novella but explored the signs and patterns that have led to Gregor’s breakdown rather than beginning with an inexplicable metamorphosis.

It has felt brave and instinctive. I think Lemn is both of these things, as well as a hugely talented wordsmith. He has been open and generous, never precious and has been the perfect collaborator.

Scott Graham (l) with Lemn Sissay (r) in rehearsal for Metamorphosis

Can you tell people a bit about Frantic Assembly? What drives you to make the work that you do?

Frantic Assembly was formed by three friends who knew very little about theatre but were suddenly switched on to the potential of it. We wanted it to connect in an immediate, visceral and accessible way. We wanted it to be vital connection and entertainment for people like us. Somehow were were very successful at making that happen. 

We made work about our lives. We opened our work up, showing the processes, mistakes and moments of inspiration, warts and all, as a way of encouraging others like us to get involved in making work and finding their voice and presence within theatre (and the Arts). That continues today and is behind what is probably a unique relationship between the creative processes of Frantic Assembly and arts education around the world. I still make the work I want to make, whether that is devising with writers on new commissions or exploring with actors, dancers and other creatives. Someone once asked me what my hit list of plays was, meaning what are the existing works that I would want to stage. I could not answer the question because I have never deliberately looked to the theatrical canon but have always let an idea emerge and form into a new project. Sometimes that comes from a provocation that collides with pre held fascination and can result in hybrid projects like Othello and Metamorphosis.

I love the connection the work can find with its audience. We get a very young audience and the energy and reaction is extraordinary. But it is not enough to sit young people in front of a piece of work and expect connection. That is why our work is demystified and supported through vast resources. It is not just about supporting the understanding of the production. It is about telling the audience, ‘You could do this and this is how. Your voice and presence is welcome and vital’

Metamorphosis. Photo by Tristram Kenton

Our new AD Nancy Medina is passionate about making work accessible to the whole city and breaking down the barriers to creativity – Does this chime with your own drive for accessibility, particularly reaching out to young audiences?

Absolutely. The Arts can be easily, and often are, described as an indulgent plaything and that is exactly what they will become if we continue to allow this insidious devaluing of one of the things this country still does very well. Theatre needs to be understood as more than sitting in front of a stage for a couple of hours. It needs to be understood as more than some actors saying some words in front of that audience. Theatre is the transference of complicated, challenging ideas. It is a light on the human predicament. To get to that point of exchange it has been a slog of inspiration, failure and revision. A huge stew of philosophy, literature, sociology, design, psychology and a surprising smattering of maths go into the creation of the work on stage. It is about collaboration, problem solving and resilience. Everyone engaged is taking a huge leap of faith in something that does not exist until it meets its audience. It takes a remarkable bravery and nerve. These are skills and attributes that could benefit any industry.

If we can get the complexity and wonder of this into the wider narrative about theatre then we cannot devalue and dismiss it. People need to see that and see themselves within it. Of course it is fine to just come to see a piece of theatre! But there are crossover skills and people out there who could thrive within the Arts, who might not feel it is for them for many cultural or economic reasons. Anything we can do to open those doors will help us all celebrate the remarkable creative abilities we can possess.

Scott Graham,  Artistic Director

Metamorphosis. Photo by Tristram Kenton

Metamorphosis runs from 10-20 Jan. Find out more