"One morning, as Gregor Samsa was waking up from anxious dreams, he discovered that in bed he had been changed into a monstrous verminous bug": So begins Franz Kafka’s classic tale of middle-class moribundity, which has been transformed into a one-woman show by Different Theatre. This re-envisioning of Metamorphosis, perhaps fittingly, morphs between storytelling, monologue, mime and something that approaches literary criticism. The overall result is a work both original and strangely familiar.
Sam Chittenden’s script is salivatingly sharp and sensuous
The production’s basic tactic is to flip the story’s perspective from that of Gregor to his sister, Greta. Beginning the tale as a "moody adolescent", Greta experiences her own phycological and sexual metamorphosis alongside that of her bug-like brother’s. As a daughter though, Greta’s experience goes unnoticed, a lack of familial recognition that has a number of disturbing consequences.
I’ve always admired shows that engage the ear as well as the eye and Sam Chittenden’s script is salivatingly sharp and sensuous to the shell-likes. The description of the reclusive Gregor as "a cage in search of a bird" and of being "armoured by illness" both capture the daily deathliness that the Samsa household seems bound by. A script of such verbal dexterity and richness creates both challenges and opportunities for any actor, and Heather-Rose Andrews as Greta is a performer equal to her text.
Andrews employs an arsenal of vocal and physical styles to articulate the range of characters and it is no small feat to make all of these read clearly and forcefully, particularly when the piece moves from direct narration, into action and to soliloquy-like reflection.
While an impressive piece of work, there are some small structural issues. Initially, the script over-labours the point that Greta’s adolescence mirrors the transformation of her brother and the plot does not properly become engaged until the lodgers appear in the story, some twenty minutes in to the hour-long piece. It’s possible also that more dynamic use could have been made of the few props to expand the gestural and visual aspects of the show.
These however are small caveats and Different Theatre’s very different and engaging version of this classic piece of literature. And so, one evening, as this reviewer was getting up from the edge of his seat, he discovered a monstrous show he would change very little about.