The classic Cold War era monster movie, Them!, in which humanity is under threat from giant mutant ants, played on people’s fear of the other.
In this deconstruction of the story for the National Theatre of Scotland, innovative Scottish director and theatremaker Stewart Laing, is again working with his regular collaborator Pamela Carter (they also worked together on Paul Bright’s Confessions of a Justified Sinner).
Laing’s show consists of a daytime TV show hosted by Kiruna Stamell, with suitable musical accompaniment from Carla J Easton’s tight house band. It is impressively realistic. Stamell is an astute host. Her perfectly delivered opening monologue is a work of art in itself. She makes the audience a part of the performance and thrives when her guests arrive.
The first guest is, naturally, Laing himself, who is here to work up interest in financing his modern take on Them!, which, he reveals, will be an action movie musical. Further guests follow. Ross Mann plays a cocksure director, Zachary Hing is Prof, intended to be the film’s “love interest” but determined not to let the character conform to the usual cliches of such a role, and Rosina Bonsu is the film’s hero, Toni. Each new interviewee pushes the narrative further away from the expected.
Nick Miller’s design – a starkly modern black studio, the whole cast kitted out in classic black Adidas tracksuits – and Anna Chaney’s video direction keep the whole thing tightly focused.
Laing is the Heston Blumenthal of theatre directors. He takes his deconstructions to extreme lengths and ensures that, while every element of the original is present, albeit initially unrecognisable, the whole piece takes on a new shape. If the TV studio section is the main course, the second part dissipates into a fluffy, formless dessert that takes the entire audience out of the studio into a nightclub environment. The third section, however, in which Laing introduces a nest of more than a hundred thousand leaf-cutter ants, is the equivalent of a sharp postprandial whisky.
Laing and Carter’s concerns are many. The piece is studded with ideas. The show explores identity, gender, climate change and the nature of the other. Ultimately it seems the true meaning of the piece is hiding in plain sight. The “them” of the play’s title are not just among us, they are part of us.