Theatre review - Metamorphosis

Franz Kafka’s classic tale of social alienation is brought vividly to life by David Farr and Gisli Orn Gardarsson in their stunning Anglo-Icelandic production. METAMORPHOSIS enjoys a welcome return to the Lyric Hammersmith for a limited run. So if you haven’t already seen this captivating show, catch it while you can. This is a second outing for me.

The Samsas find their lives turned upside down when they wake up one morning to discover that their son has inexplicably turned into a giant insect, apparently of monstrous proportions with a voice that they no longer understand. But instead of displaying familial love for this new incarnation, their primary concern is that Gregor, the main breadwinner, is now unable to work.

The family cannot bear to look at their son in his insect form or listen to the cacophony of sound he makes when attempting to speak, and their initial pity soon turns to resentment. Gregor’s sister Greta is herself transformed from sympathetic defender of her brother to his gaoler and torturer. Her actions and the reaction of Herr Fisher, a potential lodger, recall the rise of fascism in 1930s Europe. There are also wider, more recent resonances including the financial crisis. Gregor is told that if he is unable to fulfil his responsibilities, to earn a living and provide for them all, then he will be denied the rights of a family member.

Kafka’s insect-hero comes to represent all persecuted people, past and present. Left alone in a bare room, starving and miserable, the family begin to strip Gregor of everything that makes him human. But throughout the play’s 85-minute duration he retains his essential humanity despite their brutal treatment of him. In the play’s final moments, when a window springs open offering Gregor an escape from his tortuous existence, one hopes he will choose to climb to his freedom rather than fall to his death.

It’s a terrific performance by Gardarsson in the central role. His physical dexterity and daring aerial feats, leaping from chair to table and quite literally scaling the walls and ceiling, makes his metamorphosis utterly convincing. The supporting cast is also brilliant – particularly memorable is Nina Dogg Filippusdottir’s descent into frenzied cruelty as Greta.

Co-directed by David Farr and Gardarsson, METAMORPHOSIS is stunningly staged. Borkur Jonsson’s split-level set recreates the family’s living area downstairs, while on the upper storey, we get a clever ceiling-eye perspective of Gregor's room. The original score by Nick Cave and his long time collaborator Warren Ellis adds an eerie atmosphere to proceedings.

Running at the Lyric Hammersmith until 16 February