Metamorphosis is a play based upon the franz kafka novella of the same name and is a story of transformation both of gregor from travelling salesman to insectoid creature, but also of the transformation of his family and their behaviour and attitudes towards him and their family roles as they all cope and adapt around his transformations as they progress.
The Old Rep Theatre
This was my first time visiting the old rep theatre and it’s located in the area’s behind Birmingham new street central, whilst previously in a part of the city rarely visited due to the layout of the town it now benefits from the newly opened nature of the train station and perhaps might become a bigger venue as this side of the town gets regenerated with businesses taking advantage of the expansion to this area.
Inside the venue itself it is essentially a single production establishment with a small side café, the view of the stage is ensured through the chair layout so you’re able to take in the show without distractions. The lighting and fog effects of the venue made it a very atmospheric show, and if it wasn’t for the occasional eye contact with the actors on stage you could compare it to a close up experience of a movie at the cinema, except with true 3D because actually it’s a stage show for those who have never been to a play themselves.
The show opens with a little transitional white noise and flickering of lights as the actors scurry into position, this is both a moody way of establishing time passing but also a convenient way of masking scenery and actor changing transitions as well as maybe establishing something isn’t quite right and this effect is used throughout the show to great effect. I do believe there’s one point later where perhaps the transition was missed or should have been there during the performance I saw however that’s probably the only gripe I would have with the show as overall the actors put on a great performance and it was a very enjoyable show.
All of the actors portrayed their character roles very well putting across suitable emotional levels for each stage of the performance in both their voices and mannerisms and in particular the main character of gregor was well performed throughout his transitions from self sacrificing brother through to his insectoid nature and inner thoughts grasping onto his humanity until the end all of which were acted out expertly from his insect like slight buzzing and struggling to his voice through to his final transformation with shoulder blades sticking out in very insect like manners and creeping around cautiously like an insect trying not to get spotted as he desired to hear his sister sing one last time, something he always loved as a human and had actively sacrificed his life to ensure he could afford to send her to the conservatoire; a famous and renowned school for the performing arts. Clearly showing that even at the end he was still grasping onto his humanity and simply wanted to hear her singing voice closer and be closer to what was the core part of his humanity.
Transformation is a key part of this play and whilst you might presume that the show alone is about gregor and his transition into an insectoid creature there are many more transformations to consider throughout the show. Whilst initially I presumed he was transforming into some sort of corporate individual as the actor who portrayed the face of many roles wore a white face with black eyeliner in a style I would associate with “we happy few” which may indeed be Kafkaesque but I may be unfamiliar with or perhaps even be theatre commonality for someone who would be playing many roles, however this was put to rest pretty soon as the boss with this makeup visited gregor at his home stating he would need to see a doctor about the matter.
During his transformation process gregor loses his job, perhaps as a result of his illness or perhaps resulting from being late to work one single time when he had an illness who is to say for sure, however this leads to his family having to take over his responsibilities to earn money as he had essentially giving his life working non stop to ensure they could live the lives they deserved, wishing to fund his sister to pursue her dreams, and ensuring his parents could enjoy their retirement without worry and providing additional funds for them in case of emergencies all without ever complaining despite only getting 4 hours of sleep per night.
Initially his sister looks after him as he’s stuck in his room making sure he gets enough food to eat, and even ensuring it’s something he can enjoy as his tastes change during his illness. Throughout the play however this changes over time through fear and concern to an unwanted chore looking after what she considers an unwanted monster who has destroyed her brother believing there’s nothing left of him inside and wanting this reminder of what she believes to have killed her brother to just be gone from the house and to stop being a financial burden holding her family back from living the life she desires. Obviously there are a lot of subtle subtexts to read throughout the show from him only wanting the best for her and a lot to watch out for as the relationships between the two evolve.
The father has to take up the mantle of main producer for the family after gregor loses his job and whilst initially he takes up the mantle of gregor’s former position as travelling salesman he quickly becomes bitter about having to work non stop and never having any form of life only going to work and returning home to eat and sleep, and whilst this might fuel his rage towards gregor for letting him down by circumstances outside his control it also shows just how unappreciative his family are for what he had done up until now, having lived this job and life for 5 years prior to this transformation without ever a word of complaint and actually happy that he could ensure his family lived a good and simple life, yet having to do this himself for a short time the father instead blames gregor for what has happened and for not being able to retire and spend time with his family. This leads him to resort to leasing out a spare room to a tenant who demands further transformations to the house, leading to gregor being treated like a locked in animal stored with the unwanted trash of the house.
All of these transformations are well acted and well portrayed by the cast, and the pacing of the story feels pretty good along with suitable time wipe transitions showing events progressing, as well as the creature like hiding under the bed being used to good effect to allow the actor to escape off stage to apply further makeup and change into his next transition of the illness. Whilst I do believe there may have been more the family could have done throughout the story, from sending him to an uncaring doctor who seemed to care more about observing the novelty of the transformations than actually curing the condition along with his family keeping him locked up and treating him like a caged animal throughout rather than attempting to maintain his humanity. I’m sure that his family only acted this way initially out of fear and refusing to face the truth as they all avoided him as much as possible.
I do feel like the end of the story portrayed the family being quite cold about the whole situation without any residual care that gregor had died, instead being glad that they could move on with life and get out of the place though I am sure this is because in their hearts they felt he had died long ago and they were simply custodians of some form of unwanted creature I do feel like there could have been a little care or remorse there, perhaps some sort of emotional release, though this is down to the way kafka wrote the story as opposed to the portrayal of the actors.
From beginning to end the story and portrayal is very intriguing, and though there are some comedic characters like the doctors assistant for the most part it’s a gripping emotional story revolving around how the family cope with this unexpected transformation nobody was prepared for. As I have stated the actors convey this very well behaving as you would expect a family to behave through a range of emotions transitioning from shock and concern into being burdened by a problem everyone including gregor just wishes was over. And while there are deeper seeded subtleties to watch out for like gregor holding onto his humanity as much as possible unnoticed by his sister and family and their desperation for any sign of humanity from him along with not realising just how much he had looked after them and perhaps what was supposed to be a revelation that gregor had been saving up for his sister to study at the conservatoire throughout his job but had never mentioned (even though it was hinted at early and I had already caught on before the transformation even occurred.) the plot and acting are both very good and gripping and I would definitely recommend going to see the performance if you were considering it, and to go see for yourself the story unfold and make your own assumptions and impressions of what is going on and how the family are reacting to the situation unfolding.
Metamorphosis is on now at the old rep theatre in Birmingham and you can find out more about it at https://www.oldreptheatre.co.uk/calendar/?calid=2,3,4,5,7,8,9,10,11,1,12&pid=3&viewid=1&event=97 and beginning a uk theatre tour which may be available in your area soon.