Metamorphosis – The story that transforms itself, the production that transforms the story. (Theatre Review)
Throwing Shade Theatre Company
The Fuse Box Studio, The Factory Theatre, 31 March – 2 April
It is accepted that one of the many great talents of Franz Kafka is that he created his own past, his own predecessors. Kafka had his influences, but his unique perspective on these writers only came into existence once Kafka had written. The Metamorphosis is able to say everything and nothing. It is a unique story because it speaks to random, absurd meaningless events of life and yet takes a contingent event, and evokes an endless spiral of profound meaning. If you read Freud, The Metamorphosis is about the impact of the family (particularly the imposing figure of the father) on the individual. If you read Marx, it is about the single value capitalist society places on the individual – their ability to work. If you read Nietzsche Gregor’s transformation is a deliberate refusal of society, a journey from alienation to the famous Nietzschean Ubermensch, whose death becomes a sacrifice of complete nihilism. If you are reading Zadie Smith The Metamorphosis is a commentary on the outsider, and how modern life turns us all into a version of “The Jewish Problem.” The Metamorphosis even has a feminist reading – As Gregor becomes ugly and useless, his sister’s body transforms into something society deems beautiful and useful, and the family seeks its future income in marrying her well. One could extract an ecological interpretation about evolution and practising kindness to the other species that roam this earth with us. Through The Metamorphosis, Kafka shines fresh light on writers before him and turns that light onto the path ahead, still creating interpretations of ideologies and theories that are to come. A historically significant story thus mirrors history, interprets history, and makes history. It is a fluid work whose enduring legacy lies in its ability to remain relevant.
What then is the value of Steven Berkoff adapting The Metamorphosis into Metamorphosis the play? Surely it lies in the joy of spiralling deep into Kafka to find the hundreds of as yet uninterpreted meanings available only to those who turn his story inside out. Steven Berkoff has a talent for adapting Kafka, which he has done three times with great success. So when Berkoff adapts The Metamorphosis for theatre and does it well, a thrilling opportunity arises for the individual to extract even more from this time travelling story.
Throwing Shade Theatre Company have done a fine job under the direction of Andrew Langcake in causing a production that allows for the contingent to rise within an observant audience. What is Metamorphosis about today? For this observer the freshness lay in Kafka’s women. Mrs Samsa’s mother’s love comes across as anaemic with its emphasis on platitudes rather than action where before she’d seemed as helpless as her son before the imposing spectre of her husband. But in this production William Jordan’s Mr Samsa is a weak creature, exposed by his sons transformation and his ridiculous passion for the symbolic meaning of his own uniform. In this performance, the infamous apple toss exemplifies the futility of war as an attempt to preserve a long-dead masculine ideal. Against this clever futility Susan M Kennedy’s Mrs Samsa is exposed as preserving this foolish ideal herself and we get a remarkable opportunity to see the way women can force men into the impossible masculine ideal in a perverse prison guarded by a soft but conniving and malicious guard. These are great performances evoking complex realisation of the characters and an admirable refusal to present shallow side characters. Alongside this is the equally clever performance of Darcie Irwin who reveals Greta to be, not so much the great and terrible betrayer of Gregor, but his replacement. As Gregor turns ugly, she turns beautiful, and it is a chilling end to see the family turn their attention to her blossoming looks as if they are a new found source of income. Irwin’s confused yet compliant looks in the face of her brothers’ death at the end plunge her into a world she didn’t expect to inhabit when she rid herself of the burden of caring for her sick and ugly sibling. It is in those final chilling moments we witness the inevitability of Greta’s death, her being forced down the same path as her brother.
All of this is possible because of an outstanding performance by Harley Connor as Gregor. Connor descends from the skies here in a remarkable performance that embodies the cry of the distinctly alone. He is funny and tragic together, horrible to look at and easy on the eye, in a performance that calls forth new dimensions on the essence of Gregor’s character. If there is plenty more to see in the family characters, there is another world called forth in witnessing Gregor Samsa come to life and change himself before us. His haunting, guttural groans point to illness and dissatisfaction. Connor’s Gregor is less of an alienated creature than he is an alien creature but Langcake reveals a universal inevitability in Gregor’s transformation that leaves in the audience the unsettling premonition we will end up as Gregor does in some form or another. Kafka pulls the reader into Gregor’s mind, and while Connor and Langcake honour this, they also present Gregor as the horror his family witnesses so that the mixed feelings are internalised. The audience don’t just sympathise with Gregor, we are Gregor. In this way, the only people in the room given real permission to see Gregor as a separate being are his parents and the Other, represented here by David McLaughlin’s Clerk and Lodger. The rest of us are forced to sit inside Gregor even as we watch him, and the experience is deliciously unsettling. David McLaughlin takes his two marginal but super important characters and gives them appropriate gravitas, delivering his crushing observations with precision that takes nothing away from the discombobulating experience.
This production of Metamorphosis is also given due justice by the talented crew behind the scenes, particularly Laurelle Alefounder as singing consultant and Nick Curnow as dialect consultant. These small details executed with panache give the play an intellectual elegance that adds to the productions inferred profundity. Lee Launay’s set is deep and alienating keeping Gregor at a distance even as we feel ourselves being drawn into him. Produced by Alexandra Voyage and directed with great insight by Andrew Langcake Metamorphosis is another great production in 2016 by Throwing Shade Theatre Company.