Metamorphosis

Fanz Kafka, adapted and directed by David Farr and Gísli Örn Gardarsson
Lyric, Hammersmith
(2008)

Production photo

Kafka's story The Metamorphosis has all the qualities of an unforgettable tale. It is so bizarre yet immediate and comprehensible. Gregor Samsa, an exemplary travelling salesman, wakes up one morning to find that he has turned into "a monstrous venomous bug". It is one thing for him to adapt to the new transformation; it is another for his family to cope with the new reality. Gregor Samsa is a living allegory of the brutal emotions that can surface so easily when the object of one's affection no longer represents what he used to be.

The adaptation by David Farr and Gísli Örn Gardarsson successfully conveys the essence of Kafka's novella.

The stage is divided so as to show an apartment on two floors. Downstairs is the Samsa's dull-green dining room and above is Gregor's bedroom. These rooms cleverly utilise and expose the physical and psychological metamorphosis.

The dining-room is occupied by Gregor's attractive yet sickly mother (Elva Osk Stefásdáttir), father (Tom Mannion) and sister Grete (Unnur Osp Stefásdáttir). A mime of a routine early morning round the breakfast table introduces humour and the requisite impression of monotonous activity as a prelude to the extraordinary change that is to confront the family. The audience witnesses the peculiarity that took place upstairs by being presented with a vertical bed, exposing a silhouette of a large four legged creature. The window is placed where the ceiling should have been. The parents' and sister's performance combines over-acting and miming, simulating surreal and absurd reality in a mundane context.

Björn Thors' outstanding performance as Gregor successfully conveys the physical deformity whilst fully cognitive abilities are intact. His desperate attempts to communicate with his parents and sister generate escalating hostility, embedded initially in the inability to comprehend what he is saying. His voice to them is nothing but unbearable noises. Grete, for whose future he greatly cares, is the barometer of tolerance, and this is very limited.

This production introduces a new character, Herr Fischer (Jonathan McGuinness). He is a bachelor with money and a strong work ethic. He is looking for a room to rent and the family is desperate for income. He is a potential suitor for Grete. The family trips over itself to please the guy, making sure to keep the dark secret of the family 'bug' hidden. He introduces clichés familiar from the Nazis' repertoire such as 'work liberates'. This is a somewhat tenuous extension to Kafka's powerful storyline. Yet Kafka's three sisters were all exterminated by the Nazis after being stripped of their identity and, like Gregor; they woke up one morning to find those they were serving perceived them as no better than "monstrous venomous bugs" and economic parasites that must be terminated.

The music composed by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis and the lighting designed by Hartley T A Kemp enhance the dramatic tension between upstairs and downstairs.

This is a powerful production, which must be seen before it leaves Britain for a tour.

Until 2nd February 2008.

Philip Fisher reviewed the original production at the Lyric in 2006, V Mitchell reviewed the tour at Newcastle and Lynn Rusk reviewed it at the Dublin Theatre Festival

Reviewer: Rivka Jacobson