On the surface, the premise of Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis sounds likes a scenario in a Roald Dahl book. However, like Orwell’s Animal Farm, there are other multiple layers to this tale, each begetting profound insights into dynamics within the family and society. Playwright Steven Berkoff who has long been an advocate of the theatrical use of non-naturalism and Kubuki-esque physical movement, adapted Metamorphosis 40+ years ago. It is his version that Theatrical Niche Ltd is currently touring with, having found a synergy with his aims and their own fluid style.
Gregor Samsa is a travelling salesman who works long hours. As the only member of his family out at work, they all rely on his salary to keep them afloat. He oversleeps one morning, waking to find he’s transformed into a beetle. His family are aghast at his physical appeareance and are unable to understand what he’s saying. However, what really concerns them is there no one now earning a living and that the chief clerk who has visited to find the cause of Gregor’s non-appearance will tell all, guaranteeing Gregor will lose his job…
As Gregor, Simon Gleave is able to use his physicality to convincingly convey his insect-like demeanour, shifting his body posture and scuttering around. That in itself would have been enough, but at certain junctures a large puppet created by Maia Kirkman Richards is used – a reminder of the alarm that seeing a giant-sized insect would engender. Adam Courting, Venetia Twigg and Maia Kirkman-Richards who play Mr Samsa, Mrs Samsa and Greta respectvely utilise repetition in speech and movement to convey their everyday routines and the attitudes they’ve assimilated parrot-fashion from society.
Director Alice Sillet and movement director Will Pinchin have brought to the life the dark humour and absurdist qualities of Kafka’s tale. A slightly exaggerated version of our own world, the lengths that Gregor’s employer and the family go to check up on him has obvious parallels to the ethos of cracking down on ‘work-shy’ people nowadays. It’s been a couple of years since I last read Metamorphosis, but this production really brought home the disinterest that Gregor’s family has for his well-being, once he stopped being the breadwinner for them. There are also obvious parallels to be people with dementia and the lack of tolerance towards them when impediements to speech make communication extremely difficult.The most damning point the show makes is the family adopting society’s priorities regarding the value of a human being. When the home is bereft of empathy and compassion, society really is lost.
© Michael Davis 2017
Metamorphosis ran at The Vaults, London on 7th and 8th May. It will continues on its tour at:
Friday 12th May – Northwich Memorial Hall (Northwich, Cheshire) 7:30pm
Thursday 18th May – The Burrell Theatre (Truro, Cornwall) 7:30pm
Friday 19th May – Yvonne Arnaud Theatre (Mill Studio, Guildford) 8pm