Sunday, 3 February 2008


For our anniversary (sixth, if you're interested) the boyfriend and I went last night to see a production of Kafka's The Metamorphosis. Call us hopeless romantics if you like, but nothing says "I love you" like the existential crisis of turning into a giant cockroach, does it? Even better, I have just been presented with a fox skull found on his work trip to the woods today, so I have to find a non-food bowl in which to soak it in biological washing powder.

This production was by Icelandic troup Vesturport, and seems to have rather taken the London theatre world by storm, overwhelming the small Lyric Theatre in Hammersmith where it's being staged. Our performance was meant to be the last one but the run has now been extended due to popular demand - it's then going on a UK tour and worldwide later in the year. We were therefore intrigued to see what all the fuss was about.

I'll say right away this is one of the best theatre performances I have ever seen, full stop. It even made me cry at the end. The stage set was inspired, a slice through the Samsa's accommodation like a dolls house, but with Gregor's room presented as an arial view (making for a strange Escher-like swoon of perspective when the light grew enough to first see it properly), the walls covered in cracks ("cracking up"?) which serve as climbing holds for Gregor to scuttle about in a convincingly insectile way. The cast were amazing and "tighter than Robocop" according to the boyfriend (what an accolade). The actor playing Gregor (sorry, we didn't get a programme so I don't know his name) was just incredible, perfectly capturing the cold, lonely, hungry misery of the son left to starve to death in his room, forgotten by his family below - that and his remarkable athleticism in making all the jumps and catches needed to crawl and bound around the set, and the strength to spend whole scenes hanging from various holds. He also has an amazingly expressive face, such fear in his eyes as he waits for his family to react by screaming or attacking him.

It was interesting that this production has Gregor dressed in a business suit throughout - no attempt to dress him as an insect or even allude to what he may have turned into that is so horrific to his family, other than by his physical crawling (Kafka's original German text doesn't say "insect" either, just "monstrous vermin"). Instead we merely see a crouching human, cowering in the corner in dirty, torn clothes. This made me understand the analogy more with marginalised people - Gregor could easily have been mentally ill, psychotic, with strange behaviour that his family couldn't comprehend or relate to, and slowly becoming a burden for them to look after and a "dirty secret". I'm sure this happens far too often in real life. It also made me terribly sad that people behave like this with pets when they get bored - why rouse oneself from one's book to bother to go and feed them and clean them? People should need licences to keep animals.

The only slightly jarring note was the decision to change the lodgers towards the end of the story to one scarily upright gentleman, who is a love interest for Grete and also her boss at the department store. Whilst this gave great comedy, it did lend a different slant to Grete's final vicious turning against Gregor, here catalysed by the loss of her potential romance and her job as much as the loss of an income stream for the family. To me this makes her betrayal more of a crime of passion, more human, as opposed to the distinctly cold way Kafka has it as her boredom and frustration at having to deal with Gregor unaided move her from neglect into hatred - inhuman behaviour contrasted with Gregor: inhuman physically but never ceasing to love his sister deeply and to be willing to sacrifice himself for her.

Still, a really wonderful production, and with a score by Nick Cave, what could be better? Seriously, go and see this.

P.S. I know I have a string of positive reviews on here - perhaps I'm easily pleased, but this really was fantastic - even The Times agrees. I'll try to go and see something crap soon and report back immediately.

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