Working with physical theatre company Frantic Assembly under the direction of its founder Scott Graham, Sissay plays his ace card to lend the story a poetic script, with references to hot topics like the cost of living crisis woven in. It loses its way in the second half, once the metamorphosis – pushed from the beginning to the end of the first act – has taken place, but Sissay’s crystal clear storytelling makes this high-octane version easily accessible to a young audience approaching Kafka for the first time.
Sissay’s interpretation is keen to link the plight of our salesman, Gregor Samsa (Felipe Pacheco), to the exploitation of workers in a capitalist society. Through a backstory preceding his metamorphosis, we see his enthusiasm for the cloth industry turn to terror as he struggles with mounting debt, imposter syndrome and burnout. None of which is helped by his parents, Mr Samsa (a growling Troy Glasgow) and Mrs Samsa (a pouting, whiny Louise Mai Newberry), who Graham has bestowed with the crocodile grins of Roald Dahl villains. Their love for their son is very much the conditional kind, snuffed out as soon as he’s no longer fit to work.
Metamorphosis by Frantic Assembly
By its nature, the story lends itself to highly physical adaptations. Steven Berkoff’s came first, but many (including this reviewer) have fond memories of the version by Icelandic company Vesturport, which saw Gregor seemingly defy gravity as he clung to the walls. Graham’s take is also a work of gymnastics: Pacheco – a movement artist as well as an actor – swings off the light fittings and contorts his body into all manner of shapes with impressive ease. But more compelling is the emphatic conviction with which he bemoans his exploitation. His Gregor is an easy character to sympathise with.
Jon Bausor’s collapsible box set makes this production a great touring show – ideal, given Metamorphosis is often on school syllabi. Props to the bed, which services the production with vanishing act illusions. Also working hard is Stefan Janik’s score, with its ominous, rising piano riffs.
It’s a shame that, after a tension-building first act, it runs out of steam in the second. Repeated sequences and phrases grow tired. There’s also an eyebrow raising suggestion of incest between Gregor and sister Grete, here called Greta (a watchful Hannah Sinclair Robinson, very good), that’s never explained. Still, it’s a deliciously eerie, easy to follow, production that makes the 1915 novella speak for today.
|Metamorphosis, Lyric Hammersmith review
|Lyric Hammersmith, Lyric Square, King St, W6 0QL | MAP
|Hammersmith (All lines) (underground)
01 Feb 24 – 02 Mar 24, 7:30 PM – 9:30 PM
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