Lemn Sissay, adapted from the novella by Franz Kafka
Frantic Assembly
York Theatre Royal

Listing details and ticket info...

Felipe Pacheco (Gregor), Joe Layton (Chief Clerk / Lodger) and Hannah Sinclair Robinson (Grete) Credit: Tristram Kenton
Hannah Sinclair Robinson (Grete) and Felipe Pacheco (Gregor) Credit: Tristram Kenton
The cast Credit: Tristram Kenton

Having loved Frantic Assembly’s production of Othello last year—first staged by the company in 2008, but brought back in a revitalised version—I was excited to watch their new staging of Metamorphosis. Unfortunately, while this fresh take on Kafka’s story has many virtues, it is also undermined by some key issues which prevent the company from reaching the heights of previous productions.

First published in 1915, Kafka’s classic story of alienation and dehumanisation—in which a lowly travelling salesman is inexplicably transformed into a giant insect—has been adapted for the stage on numerous occasions, most famously in Steven Berkoff’s one-man show, which was admired for its physicality and expressionistic style.

Given the opportunities for physical expression that Kafka’s novella offers, one can immediately see why Scott Graham—the show’s director and co-founder of Frantic Assembly—was inspired to approach the poet-playwright Lemn Sissay with the idea of adapting it. Frantic Assembly has built a much-deserved reputation for its pioneering use of physicality within theatre, and it is in the moments where the performers are allowed to express themselves through gesture and athleticism that the production becomes its most exciting.

Unfortunately, compared to other Frantic Assembly productions I have seen, there is less movement work in Metamorphosis than I would have expected. This is disappointing because the scenes in which Felipe Pacheco, in the role of Gregor Samsa, enacts the pain and horror of the transformation are genuinely powerful and unsettling. Compared to the acrobatics of Icelandic performer Gisli Orn Gardarsson in a production he co-wrote and directed with David Farr in 2006, Frantic Assembly’s production is comparatively restrained.

In his script, Sissay has chosen to focus on the idea of humans struggling within the capitalist system, and this idea is strongly conveyed in a sustained montage of Gregor leaving for work in the morning and returning in the evening. The arbitrary and soul-devouring effect aspects of paid work are made abundantly clear, but the scene is so long and repetitive that I eventually found it tiresome.

The ensemble give solid performances, particularly Pacheco who ably handles the physical demands of the central role. While I found the incestuous tension between Gregor and his sister Grete an unnecessary distraction, the latter is nicely played by Hannah Sinclair Robinson.

In addition to the occasional moments of choreographic excitement, Metamorphosis benefits from a striking set courtesy of Jon Bauser. Gregor Samsa’s bedroom, with its distorted angles and vellum walls, makes for a suitably atmospheric performance space. Some of the details, such as the mould on the ceiling, are wonderfully evocative. I also enjoyed the way in which photos from fashion magazines were projected onto the set in order to underline the contrast between fantasy and grim reality.

As a work of psychological drama, I found Metamorphosis underpowered, but there is enough atmosphere and physical excitement to make this production a worthwhile experience.

Reviewer: James Ballands

*Some links, including Amazon,,, ATG Tickets, LOVEtheatre, BTG Tickets, Ticketmaster, LW Theatres and QuayTickets, are affiliate links for which BTG may earn a small fee at no extra cost to the purchaser.

Are you sure?