Metamorphosis at Lyric Theatre
Frantic Assembly’s focus on movement and unusual adaptations provides a creative take on Kafka’s classic, offering an experience like none other. It’s a visual spectacle – practically Kafkaesque to a tee – and attempts to humanise the characters surrounding Gregor Samsa (Felipe Pacheco). But while this does deliver several strong moments, for the most part, the story is spread too thin, and the performance feels overstylised. As a result, the adaptation loses the most central ingredient of any Kafka adaptation: a sense of the uncanny.
Unlike the original, where Gregor wakes up finding himself transformed into Ungeziefer (vermin) right at the start, here the audience is instead given a 45-minute spoonfed backstory in which we see him work himself into a nervous breakdown in a job where he’s underperforming and feeding a family that is too reliant on him. While this does give the other characters – notably Grete (Hannah Sinclair Robinson) – more to work with than the novella, it leaves little to the imagination, as we’re given Lemn Sissay’s definite take on Kafka.
This wouldn’t necessarily be a problem if it didn’t become overbearing and sideline Gregor too much. His transformation happens in the last 15 minutes of the first act, and most of the second revolves around other characters, right up until the final moments. Furthermore, despite over two hours of runtime – plus a 20-minute interval – there is very little character or plot development. Some of the novella’s most central scenes are left out.
Thankfully Scott Graham’s production is well done, with a beautiful set by Jon Bausor that looks perfectly claustrophobic as one would want it to be, the odd bit of visual design is projected onto the walls by video designer Ian William Galloway, and the general choreography is wonderfully dramatic. The music sometimes becomes too much and distracts from the action, but this is a minor point in an otherwise well-performed play.
A good production cannot save the play from itself, however. It’s still spread incredibly thin to the point of distorting Kafka’s classic beyond recognition. Granted, Kafka is incredibly difficult to adapt at the best of times; however, to completely sideline the original and to focus instead almost exclusively on side characters by adding a lot of material that removes Kafka’s uncanniness is not the right course to take.
Images: Tristram Kenton
Metamorphosis is at Lyric Theatre from 1st February until 2nd March 2024. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.