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Review: Metamorphosis

Metamorphosis-Frantic Assembly-Theatre Royal Plymouth-6044

By: Cathryn Macey, TRP Reviewer


Frantic Assembly’s adaptation of Othello was a huge hit, so how will their latest stab at adapting a literary classic go?   

This time, with help from poet Lemn Sissay, Frantic tackle the absolute beast of a book that is Kafka’s Metamorphosis. The novella, written in 1915, has been adapted for stage several times, perhaps most famously by Stephen Berkoff.

In the original text, stressed salesman Gregor Samsa wakes one day to find that he is a cockroach. Locked in his room, his parents try to hide him from the real world. To begin with, his sister Grete brings him food but eventually she gives up and Samsa’s cruel demise begins.

You absolutely do not need to know anything about Kafka or cockroaches because Frantic make this famous story their own in a totally relatable way for modern audiences. Any personal memories of studying the text have faded a bit but this didn’t stop me from immediately connecting with Sissay’s new version.

From the opening bars of ethereal piano music and distorted guitars, we’re quickly transported into Gregor’s confusing and pressurised world. It’s a world many of us are familiar with in the current climate. Gregor’s dad is bankrupt and so, despite his young age, Gregor is given the impossible task of keeping the whole family financially afloat. Grete, escapes this overwhelming pressure but faces her own struggles as her demanding parents, Mr and Mrs Samsa, expect her to excel at the violin; an instrument she secretly loathes.

The first act is chaotic to capture the intensity of the domestic conditions the Samsa family are trapped in. Using Frantic’s forte for impressive set and lighting design, Gregor’s uninspiring bedroom is bombarded with flashing images of what appear to be post war propaganda posters and chauvinistic phrases. Sayings such as “A man is what a man does”appear on his bedroom wall, exaggerating the power of the many standards society sets for young men.

In a scene reminiscent of The Truman Show, Gregor wears a fixed smile and a sharp suit, repeatedly entering and exiting the family home to go to the office. His parents echo the corporate slogans that fill his bedroom (“Busy busy busy…sell sell sell”) and physically transform into capitalist robots whilst waving him off to work.

As the act develops, Gregor morphs from a young successful sales man into an unemployed adult experiencing debilitating mental health issues. He goes from family bread winner to family burden. Lots of scary lighting and imagery is used to present Gregor’s metamorphosis but he doesn’t literally wake up in the same way he does in Kafka’s text. Instead, dance, movement and props are utilised to show Gregor’s transformation from a successful businessman to, in his family’s eyes, “untouchable vermin.”

Although the original text was written over 100 years ago, Director Scott Graham has made a powerful piece of contemporary theatre which explores the modern pressures society places on young men. As a parent to a young boy, seeing Gregor (Felipe Pacheco) collapse both physically and mentally under the crushing weight of his families’ expectation was hard.

Connecting to these scenes in such a visceral way is undoubtedly the result of Felipe’s haunting portrayal of Gregor. He swings from a low hanging lightbulb in his bedroom, physically adopts the characteristics and movements of animals and insects and even hangs upside down from a collapsing ceiling like an insane version of Spiderman!

Tonight’s audience include a notable number of young people. All of the teens and young adults sat near me are transfixed; mobile phones they’re usually glued to are turned off and zipped firmly away in their rucksacks. At key moments in this action packed and adrenalin filled show, they gasp and even audibly inhale.

It is a pleasure to see the show resonate with so many of its diverse audience. Sissay’s re boot of Metamorphosis exposes the gap between how young men present themselves publicly and how they feel inside. For the Instagram generation, this is essential viewing.

This isn’t an easy watch but an important one with particularly strong appeal for teens, young adults and their parents.


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