Cyborg Bodies:
(In)Organic Vocabularies of Performed Identity


Kaos Metropolis

In the Kaos Metropolis Lang's amorphous mass of workers have been specialised. It is the employees of the Funeral Directors who are restless; Maria Klein and her followers are morticians, and direct action for better pay and conditions to stave off the failure of the body, means stockpiling dead bodies on the streets of the workers' city. In Maria's words, "If it must be the reek of the dead which brings about a change then so be it.....let [Fredersen] face the decomposition of our people in no uncertain terms."

Throughout the play it is evident that the Kaos style of theatre is one concerned primarily with the choreography of images, rather than the inner psychological workings of character. The action uses filmic motifs more recognisable from cinema than stage.

There is a particularly lovely moment when three faces appear, lit by single tiny bulbs, behind one of the four tall screens they use as props and set. It is a fleeting and striking image, which holds in the audience's mind as the scene shifts. The action unfolds as movement from image to image, and like the 24 images per second we are shown at the cinema the action seems smooth, our eyes unable to pick out the blur between each image.

The actors' choreography and Leret's script, throughout this adaptation, are uncompromising in their fixation with the body. In the opening scene, one actor is naked, limp - he is the corpse the rest of the ensemble are discussing, as they arrange themselves around him, move him about. The physicality of death is immediate, in front of us, yet also hidden from us, behind one of the screens, which they hold horizontally in front of them as they conspire together, whispering in secret. The tableau of bodies is tangled and intimate, at once in our faces and at one remove. The failure of the body is met with its logical outcome. The story has become a war over the body, about the body, and fought with bodies.

Maria's sermon is transformed into a rallying speech, as she accuses Fredersen of being, "insensitive to the organics of this citadel. A city is no different to the body," she reminds us. As Leret's Rotwang tells his employer, "The greatest acrobats of change are the dead."

Rotwang, in this adaptation, though he has lost none of the mad scientist in his portrayal, has been updated to a eugenicist and genetic bio-engineer. The morticians complain that they don't get many rich clients -"It's all these vitamins and longevity pills," they grumble. The future possibilities of age demographics rear their ugly head, here - with the prospect of the almost immortal rich versus the disease-ridden and malnourished poor. Rotwang creates his robot worker genetically. This android, in Leret's terminology, is a genatoid. Our first sight of this creation is behind several gauzes; naked she poses in the play of two or three projectors, giving the convincing impression that she is - at this stage - a 3D image on a computer screen. Fredersen's cabinet, troubled by the industrial action, are treated to a startling eugenic vision in which the entire populace of workers could be eliminated. The spectre of genetic weapons for ethnic cleansing is, unfortunately, as the recent BMA report made clear, all too real. But the cabinet rejects this course of action as too dangerous - afraid their own genetic make-up may contain ethnic traces from past indiscretions in their family trees. They are more interested in Rotwang's offer of a copy of Maria. There is extraordinary irony here - germinating new life to fight the coffin-workers. This story is a fight over bodies, about bodies, with newly created bodies. Without question the primary theme of the Kaos Metropolis is the uncertainty in contemporary society over the body, and the management-worker story is as much a counter-melody as it is, for contemporary audiences, somewhat cliched.

Naked, the genatoid Maria hangs from the scaffolding, and slips down to the floor gracefully as if birthed from a standing animal. Unsteady on her new legs, at first, she finally comes to standing, curious, alive. There is something absolutely unique, for the audience, about the physical presence of this naked girl, an actor playing a genetic copy of the character she is playing in the play. The nakedness of her body serving to accentuate the physicality and the immediacy and intimacy of this moment. This is a birth, no less natural than that of a test-tube baby, yet we are instinctively both repelled and attracted at the same time. And at the same time, all this occurs behind a gauze, our view mediated, indirect. In fact, we hardly ever see the genatoid Maria directly. Most of her first scene is played upstage, the actors facing their reflections in the screens. The genatoid Maria is fascinated by her mirror-image, almost ignoring Jon and Elena Fredersen as they discuss her. Given her nature as a copy, the play with reflection is very poignant. The gaze of the audience alights not upon the genatoid Maria, but upon a representation of this representation.

After the creation scene, we see the real Maria only through a distorting lens. She is surrounded by the screens so that it is only her face and hands that we see, and her hands hold the distorting lens in front of her face. This clever device again brings into question - what is the real body, who is the real Maria, through what lens do we see when we view the genatoid Maria? The having-being-doing body problem, indeed, is constantly destabilised in this adaptation. In the Kaos Metropolis, the Frankenstein figure, Rotwang, is killed not by his creature, nor, as in Lang's film, by the romantic hero, but by the human being he has cloned, the original from which he made his copy. This twist on the classic story suggests, not only the rape-angst associated with involuntary cloning and the just retribution of the rape-victim, but the brute terror of the identity crisis brought on by the disruption of the liminal habitat of both having and being one's own body. For the audience watching the actors doing the physical choreography through which this narrative unfolds, the ontological discomfort is all the more acute.

Abstract | PhD Proposal | Conference Paper | US Research Trip | Cyborg Links
Home | WebCreation Quarter | Cyborg Quarter | Theatre Quarter | Links Quarter
Best viewed in IE5.5 or Netscape 6