Metamorphosis, arguably Franz Kafka’s best-known work, is a seemingly bizarre, illogical tale about a lowly employee, Gregor Samsa, who wakes one morning to find he’s been transformed into a gigantic insect. First written in 1912, intellectuals and literary critics have pondered its meaning for decades.
A new version of this nightmarish tale, written and directed by Emily Louizou, emphasises the physicality of the piece from the outset. The play begins while the audience is being seated. It’s five characters – rooted into a corner of the stage – perform repetitive movements in unison. Thanks to the talents of choreographer Ioli Filippakopoulou, their puppet-like jerk of hands and body thrusts create a hypnotic space.
The mood-enhancing effect of this choreography is accompanied by David Denyer’s brilliant musical composition which bears strong, tonal notes to the film score of the 1931 film, Frankenstein. In particular, the scene in which we are introduced to The Monster.
Metamorphosis is an extremely physical piece and much is demanded of the play’s five dynamic actors, who speak and move in unison throughout much of the play, spilling milk, blood and wine as they express the violence of their own emotional states. Their actions can be interpreted in many ways, possibly as the condemning voice of a society, angry and enraged, repeating itself in meaningless actions. And there is an absence of names, except for Gregor, the giant bug, and his sister, Grete, the other characters are simply known as Mother, Father, Office Manager.
To offer a brief outline of the play, Gregor is a man in a state of extreme fatigue who exists only to work himself to exhaustion to pay off his parents’ debts. When he can no longer perform this function because of his crippling transformation, he is met with revulsion and distrust. His parents and his sister see him as a pariah to be despised, one who must be hidden from society. Ultimately, they will plot his demise, but not before Gregor succumbs to the unbearable pain of isolation.
The programme notes for Collide Theatre Company liken Gregor’s predicament to that of young people today who are bullied and scorned if their identity, whether sexual, ethnic or physical does not correspond to social norms. It poses the question: ‘What happens when a family unit judges and rejects a child, instead of nurturing him with love? And if you are that child, who can you become if your family despises you?‘
Perhaps the philosophy that supports Metamorphosis is deeper and wider than childhood, but this fresh interpretation of Kafka’s wretched, haunting tale propels it straight into the 21st Century where it belongs to be revisited yet again, and perhaps for centuries to come.
Review by Loretta Monaco
In the course of one night, a beloved son turns into a hated freak. But is he really different? Is there a reason for his family to be so appalled?
This is Gregor Samsa’s story.
It is also the story of anyone who has been made to feel like vermin.
Director Emily Louizou adapts Kafka’s classic novella into a dance-theatre piece about being young and being made to feel alien by the people closest to you. This is not a piece about a man turning into an insect, but a piece about a family ostracising their own child.
Saturday 29th June 2019