The adaptation of Franz Kafka's novella is currently touring the UK.
I have never felt less qualified to write a review.
Lemn Sissay's adaptation of Kafka's 1915 novella has been produced in collaboration between Frantic Assembly, Theatre Royal Plymouth, Curve, MAST Mayflower Studios, and Lyric Hammersmith Theatre. A feast of movement and choreography, it produces a creepy tension through which to tell Kafka's allegorical tale.
I've said in previous reviews that I have no kind of dance, physical theatre or artistic movement background, so I don't really have the experience or context with which to judge the work here. Throw in the fact that I've never read or studied Kafka, and you're left with a man sat in a theatre, having no idea what's going on, yet absolutely certain it's being done immaculately.
Metamorphosis is a staple of the GCSE syllabus, and much of the audience was made up of school parties – eager students excited to see the play they've been studying brought to life. They were certainly better informed than I was.
Fortunately, I was joined by friends who did know the play, and were able to fill in the blanks for me. Metamorphosis – I'm told – is a metaphor for the effect that happens to an artist when they sell their soul to a passionless career, turning one into an exhausted, unstable creature that no longer resembles the person you once were. Although I'm also reliably informed that that's only one interpretation...
Let me get myself back on to more solid ground.
The performances in this play are incredible, and the focus should start with Felipe Pacheco, who plays Gregor Samsa. His movement is so fluid, and his athleticism mind-boggling. The opening 20 minutes of the play loops the same action over and over, as the monotony of Gregor's daily routine is hammered home to the audience. During this time, Pacheco moves around the stage like silk - so clean and effortless. But that's just the start of his performance - before the evening is done, he's swung from the light fittings, climbed the furniture, hung from the picture rails, and depicted his transformation into the creature. It's breath-taking.
He's matched – at least in the movement, if not in the athletic feats – by Hannah Sinclair Robinson, who plays Grete. She begins the play with a child-like wonder and adoration for her brother Gregor. As it progresses, that depiction becomes more mature, less excitable, and she becomes the only person Gregor's creature form will respond positively too.
Troy Glasgow and Louise Mai Newberry play Mr and Mrs Samsa. Initially very happy to live off their son's income, a transformation happens to each of them too when Mr Samsa must go off to work instead, and Mrs Samsa reveals that the children's parentage may not be as straightforward as we thought. They each deliver monologues with passion and sincerity - although in a play that's been so full of movement to this point, the stillness of their delivery is almost jarring.
Joe Layton delivers a villainous turn as the Chief Clerk/Lodger. Throughout act one, his portrayal of the Chief Clerk is dark and sinister, a looming presence over Gregor's life. In act two, the Lodger is far more upbeat - and even likeable - but causes just as much anxiety for the family, who fear Gregor's exposure.
Jon Bausor's stage is inventive. Part bedroom, part climbing frame, it's a unique construct that allows Gregor to explore the space post-transformation. The walls and bed allow for clever entrances and exits for the characters, who appear to form from nowhere or melt away in the blackouts.
Director Scott Graham has produced a piece of physical theatre that is both beautiful and brutal to witness. You never feel truly comfortable throughout the production - the music that underscores the first 20 minutes does a fantastic job of setting you on edge, both haunting in nature and just slightly too loud in volume.
It's a fascinating production; probably not one for the casual theatre fan. If you know the book well or you've studied it at GCSE, you'll take great enjoyment in Frantic Assembly's interpretation. If you're not familiar with the text, maybe glance at the Cliffs Notes before you head in.
Metamorphosis is at Curve September 19-23, and then touring across the UK until March 2024.