Of all the most famous literary works about being in a situation of lockdown, Franz Kafka’s novella about Gregor Samsa, a man who wakes up one morning to discover that he has somehow changed into a giant bug, must be one of the most resonant. Shut away in his bedroom he tries to make sense of his situation while all the time becoming an object of fear and loathing for his parents, his employer and some tenants who move into the apartment. Neglected and abandoned he scuttles towards an ignominious death as he reflects on a life wasted. Well, who hasn’t been there lately? – though perhaps not so much “scuttling” was involved. It’s been surprising in a way that the work hasn’t been referenced more often recently, especially with the possibilities offered by online theatre.
Collide Theatre’s staged version of Metamorphosis was produced back in 2019 in front of a packed audience – long before social distancing became the norm which is just the first of several surprises having got so used to empty auditoria or no auditorium at all. It is presented in a 360° format with the aid of specialist platform LIVR which means that you can move a cursor round to get the view you want (which is how I know the audience was full) and alter the angle. While this to some extent replicates the theatre experience – you get to look at your own choice rather than a director’s imposed vision – I found the novelty value became somewhat limited after a while and tended just to let things be with a whole stage view. To be honest I was expecting something rather more exciting.
But what of the actual show? Well, it’s a straightforward enough retelling in terms of the narrative with, as Kafka has it, no attempt to explain how the situation has arisen. All the original key characters are represented by the team of five actors who also act in unison when it is Gregor’s turn to “speak” – there is no attempt to portray the man/bug visually. The style of acting might best be described as exaggerated which, while not out of keeping with the original, comes across as a little too over stylised and even hammy and there’s a lot of playing at top volume especially when acting as Gregor/chorus. But I’m prepared to concede that it might have worked much better in the theatre itself. Movement choreographed by Ioli Filippakopoulou is highly stylised and, indeed, the production bills itself as “dance theatre”.
That being the case I didn’t think this went far enough to fully capture the absurdity of the situation; neither did routines with brooms and mops particularly make much sense other than to create a sense of mundane repetition which is one of the themes of the original. I also found myself asking “why?” on more than one occasion? As in “why is the father deliberately pouring a bottle of wine into a glass and letting it run all over the floor”; is it some sort of comment on conspicuous consumption? As in “why are the tenant characters ripping up the floor coverings”; is that to reinforce the notion that they are hell bent on destruction? As in “why does one of the actors draw a rectangle on the floor and then proceed to put jars into the shape”; is that supposed to represent Gregor’s bed and the food he is given? The adaptation and direction, both by Emily Louizou and the design by Ioana Curelea, really could have made these things clearer.
The young ensemble (Katharine Hardman, Joseph Hardy, Katy Ellis, Jodie May and Manuela Albrecht) work well together and show a great deal of agility and commitment in what they are doing. Their various characterisations have been given clear thought and are kept simple enough in terms of props and costume – just as well given the rather recalcitrant moustache being worn (or rather attempting to be worn) by the Manager character. There’s some excellent violin work by the actor playing Greta which gives some passages of the text a haunted quality. And overall, there is a definite attempt to capture the absurdity of Kafka’s vision and this has almost certainly become stronger for watching it from an enforced position of lockdown at home. Although I felt that this was essentially a production in search of an identity, it was undoubtedly nice to see a full theatre appreciating a young team with potential.
Production photos by Yiannis Katsaris
Metamorphosis 360° has finished its current run
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