Franz Kafka, adapted by David Farr and Gísli Örn Gardarsson
Vesturport Theatre and Lyric Hammersmith
Dublin Theatre Festival
Olympia Theatre, Dublin
Review by Lynn Rusk
Gregor Samsa awakes one morning to find that he has been inexplicably transformed into a giant insect. He has also slept late. His parents and his sister Grete try to rouse him so he can make it to his dreary job as a travelling salesman. The family depends on him for its livelihood. Gregor however is now a bug.
This production of Kafka's famous allegorical short story is brought to us by the collaborative forces of Icelandic Vesturport Theatre and the London based Lyric Hammersmith. In Gísli Örn Gardarsson and David Farr's darkly comic and physical production, the unremarkable life of the Samsa family is turned literally upside down.
The scenery created by Börkur Jónsson is the most unique part of this production. He manages to create a two-storeyed apartment on the Olympia stage. The bottom floor is the basic Samsa family room while the top is Gregor's bedroom that defies gravity. The bed is placed upright against the wall, along with the chair and bedside table. The setting of this room really illustrates the physical strength of Gardarsson as he has to hold himself up for the entire 90 minute performance, bouncing and climbing around the room. There are many new touches to this production to make it an entirely unique adaptation of Kafka's story. With the split-level set already being mentioned, there is also evocative original music provided by world renowned Nick Cave and collaborator Warren Ellis which provides another dimension to the production.
At the beginning of the play the three other members of the Samsa family seem like very loving and gentle people. When Gregor has slept in for work his asthmatic mother, violinist sister Grete and retired father show great concern and are at first startled when they discover his metamorphosis. His sister Grete is the first to take on the caring role, bringing him mouldy cheese and bread every day and cleaning his room. His father disowns him as his son and washes his hands of him. His mother collapses when she discovers him and deems herself too weak to care for him but throughout the play she is the only one who remains to love him.
As the play progresses the shocking cruelty of Mr. Samsa and Grete towards Gregor increases and he is left dehumanised, alienated and neglected. There has been much speculation that, when Kafka published this short story in 1915, it was a forecast of the violence and dehumanisation that was to take place in the coming decades during World War Two and the Holocaust. There are many references to this throughout the play for example when the family discover they now have to get jobs, Mr. Samsa says 'Work will set you free', which is 'Arbeit macht frei' in German and was written on the gates of Auschwitz. Mr. Samsa constantly make regimental reference to 'Respect' and how there should be 'Discipline' in the house. He becomes a dictator in his home and violently abuses Gregor and claims they should 'exterminate the creature'.
There are a few technical moments throughout this show that I found very effective. In the scene when the Samsa family have all become busy with their jobs and Gregor is increasingly becoming forgotten and neglected, there is more light added downstairs to represent their lives getting brighter and more prosperous, while Gregor's room gets darker along with his prospects. The show also ends with Gregor hanging dead from the bottom floor and Grete swinging free in a sun filled, garden scene upstairs with Mr. and Mrs. Samsa.
This is an excellently produced show and it is a very professionally polished piece but there were a few moments where the script dragged a little and it didn't leave a powerful impression on me. It is a great allegorical story but I'm not sure if this adapted play is thrilling enough to sustain an audience for ninety minutes.