Adapted by Lemn Sissay OBE and directed by Scott Graham, this Frantic Assembly production takes on Franz Kafka’s well-known novella about a worn-out salesman, Gregor Samsa, who wakes one day to find himself inexplicably turned into a “monstrous vermin”. Here, as in most other popular interpretations, he is portrayed as some form of insect, perhaps a cockroach. It is never specified. Apart from being pretty alarming, this sudden metamorphosis into an insect is also highly impractical when one is a salesman and the sole provider of one’s family. And so, Gregor tries to keep up appearances until, at last, there is no hiding it. Only his sister, Greta, seems truly worried about his welfare. His father and mother are more worried about the debts that their son is now physically unable to work off.
Kafka’s layered allegory of the curious turn of Gregor Samsa seems completely unfit for this kind of classic theatrical adaptation. Picked apart, several of the play’s technical elements are hard to criticise, some even good, but as a complete work, it falls short. The stage, almost a camera obscura, gives a fly-on-the-wall peek into the room of the unfortunate, hard-working Gregor. Distorted proportions and slow-tilting walls add to a foreboding feeling, emanated as well in Stefan Janik’s compositions. Jon Bausor’s stage design, though bordering on old-fashioned, packs a few pleasing surprises; serving as a kind of overture, Gregor’s repetitive life as a salesman is effectively portrayed by way of a circular choreography and images of retro clothing adverts blasted onto the entire set, setting us off to a visual, fast-paced, promising start. The device is, however, never truly picked up again for the rest of the show but for one fleeting image towards the end and so ends up feeling disconnected from the collective visual impression.
The same disjointedness goes for the portrayal of the supporting characters. Most of the cast give revue-like performances that fit poorly with the play’s subject matter. A lot of it must come down to directorial choices as all the performers show unmistakable technical capability. Their timing is sharp and their lines witty but the overall impression comes off as cartoonish rather than earnest and it makes it hard to relate to any of these characters. In an attempt to flesh out the play’s characters, each is given long, meandering monologues, which push the audience away rather than draw us in. The movement, on the other hand, is unsurprisingly a much more effective story-teller for an interpretable story like Metamorphosis. Especially Felipe Pacheco as Gregor Samsa relays his character’s agonising transformation through acrobatic movements that have him crawling on the ceiling and hanging from a lamp. Had there been more of that and much less talk, the play might have made a stronger impression in the end.
It runs until 2 March.
Review: Julie Renata