“As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams, he found himself transformed in his bed into a monstrous vermin.”
This is the striking opening line of Franz Kafka’s short novel Metamorphosis – a disturbing story of a family thrown into turmoil, conflict and cruelty by the strange transformation of their son.
This stunning stage adaptation, by Icelandic company Vesturport Theatre’s Gisli Orn Gardarrsson and the Lyric Hammersmith’s artistic director David Farr, makes the story both a chilling domestic drama and a political allegory about the victimisation of outsiders.
Metamorphosis was written in 1912, before the horrors of the Holocaust. In adapting the story, David Farr says he was struck by how prophetic it is about the treatment of Jews under Hitler.
Kafka’s three sisters were eventually murdered by the Nazis. Without straying too far from the original, the directors skilfully adapt the story into a vision of the looming threat of fascism.
The real brilliance of this production is its staging. The drama takes place within the claustrophobic confines of the Samsa household.
Gregor’s bedroom is built above the family living room and the set is tipped by 90 degrees, so that the floor and furniture of the room are moved to the back wall of the stage.
This helps to emphasise the unsettling disjunction between Gregor’s world and that of his family, as well as highlighting the gulf of misunderstanding that grows between them.
It also means some truly spectacular use of physical space and movement to emphasise Gregor’s increasing distress and degeneration as he literally crawls the walls of his room.
One of the powers of the production is that it doesn’t put Gregor in costume or try to make him “literally” into some kind of vermin or insect.
In fact, Gregor is wearing his work suit throughout, suggesting the alienation of his job may have driven him to his current state. We also hear his speech throughout, even though it is incomprehensible to his family.
The sinister mood – created, in part, by an original music score by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis – is punctuated by dark humour and some breathtaking athleticism. This play is funny, clever, and terrifying. Get to see it if you possibly can.
Metamorphosis tour schedule
|until 2 February||Lyric Hammersmith, London|
|5-9 February||Liverpool Playhouse|
|14-16 February||The Lowry, Salford Quays|
|26 February – 1 March||Birmingham Repertory Theatre|
|4-8 March||Northern Stage, Newcastle|
|11-15 March||Theatre Royal, Plymouth|
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