Tuesday, May 28

The Metamorphosis – The Traverse Theatre

Think of Kafka’ Metamorphosis and images of a tragicomic cockroach writhing on its back amongst filth and disarray usually springs to mind. Vanishing Point’s production of The Metamorphosis approaches this famous production from a refreshingly modern new angle, spurring on new connotations for the audience to mull on.

Director Matthew Lenton and Associate Director Joanna Bowman take The Metamorphosis to 2020’s. Gregor’s profession isn’t as driven, but it’s still arguably crushing.  Now, as a delivery cyclist, he’s at the mercy of his jobs worth boss and a victim of the gig economy. Sporting a bug-like helmet and sizeable rucksack, he bustles onto the stage and into bed before the transformation begins. When his family realise they can no longer rely on him for a source of income, they become security at the airport. Irony abounds.

Bowman and Lenton have translated this perfectly for a modern theatre audience. On the morning of the transformation there are two Gregors: the consciousness of Gregor (Sam Stopford) and Transformed Gregor (Nico Guerzoni). Original Gregor is invisible to his family, the new Gregor isn’t quite the same. The uncanny? A fugitive? An insect? It’s up to the audience to decide. Thus begins the horrendous treatment by his family who are repulsed by the changed Gregor.

Photo: Mihaela Bodlovic

The exploration of Gregor’s transformation is psychological rather than physical. Gregor is still human but speaks only Italian. Much to both their horror, black slime oozes out of them and over Gregor’s belongings- but it’s the only suggestion of insect-like existence. Whatever it is the family are horrified by is left to the audience to imagine. Stopford and Guerzoni are fantastic as the two Gregors, especially in their tender portrayal of trying to ameliorate the damaged relationship with his sister Grete (Alana Jackson). Guerzoni portrays Gregor’s vulnerability sensitively in this engaging performance. Elicia Daly and Paul Thomas Hickey excel in their role as the overbearing parents. But it’s Robert Jack’s performance as Gregor’s disgruntled boss that is the standout performance from the supporting cast.

Kenneth MacLeod’s set and costume design balances the private space of Gregor and emphasises his isolation from the outside world. Set in an opening of a maze-like array of rectangles, it evokes the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe by Peter Eisenman and Buro Happold.  Moving doors allows for the family and Gregor’s boss to invade his space and Gregor to cross into his, while they are separated by translucent screen. Behind the screen, reality and dream likes sequences opaquely fade in and out. It’s a uniquely intelligent way of exploring the chasm between Gregor’s family’s world and his.

Come the penultimate scene, Gregor’s room is a site of filth, dust, discarded suitcases and chaos. This, metamorphosis is less about the tragicomic and interrogates which of our own wrongly held prejudices could bring out the worst in us and others. The final scene is poignant. The striped pyjamas he’s been wearing are more than a simple sleep wear but yet another allegory. Kafka’s original allegory was prophetic, but for a modern audience it reflects upon the short path between othering and mass murder.

Reviewer: Melissa Jones

Reviewed: 14th April 2022

North West End UK Rating: ★★★★