Metamorphosis at Northern Stage
It’s difficult to believe that performance company Frantic Assembly was founded nearly thirty years ago, though their notion of addressing the possibilities of a physical mode of theatre which could headline movement and music yet which still convey the story-line and narrative structure of the dramatized source material remains immediately potent. Franz Kafka’s “Metamorphosis” (1915) sounds like the ideal project for this style of theatre, but despite a stunningly athletic body-language transformation of man into insect, it didn’t deliver their usual powerful physicality across the rest of the production. And yes, that’s the one – the fable of Gregor Samsa whose routine life as salesman and bread-winner is disrupted by his inexplicable change from man into giant bug. While this can be seen as a supreme example of early twentieth century absurdist fiction, the new translation by Lemn Sissay brings out the social dilemma beneath the wild central image: through no fault of his own Gregor has gone from being dependable to being dependent, no longer able to function in the world he was once part of. If the world of financial responsibility shaped Gregor the man, is it also responsible for changing him into Gregor the monster? This production, with its pared-down yet claustrophobic bedroom set, emphasised the alienation prompted by our altered perceptions of someone - which is perhaps why the presentation of the “normal” characters was more static than frantic. Felipe Pacheco as Gregor, however (though not aided by any of the fabulous prosthetics of costume-cum-harness which were misleadingly featured in all the show’s publicity) still conveyed the body/mind anguish of someone helplessly trapped, whose pulsating and writhing could only emphasise his terrifying new status as useless vermin.