17 Jan 2008

Metamorphosis UK reviews 2008

Metamorphosis at the Lyric Hammersmith thetare – Reviews
Sam Marlowe at the Lyric Hammersmith, W6

The Icelandic company Vesturport have been thrilling UK audiences with their skewed, vivid and physically dazzling productions since they presented us with an aerialist Romeo and Juliet in 2003. A rock’n’roll Woyzeck followed, and in 2006, in a co-production with the Lyric, they turned their distinctive approach to Kafka’s nightmarish story of a man transformed into a giant insect. Adapted and directed by David Farr and Gísli Örn Gardarsson, the piece proved visually riveting, and imbued with a plethora of political implications. Now it’s back with a new cast, before a national tour – and if anything, it’s crueller, bleaker, its evocation of alienation and brutal authoritarianism more unsettling.

Like Woyzeck, the production has a score by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis that lends a queasily lovely aural backdrop to the unfolding action. Guitars, strings and piano blend at first melodiously, with sweet melancholy and aching longing, underlining a sense of frustration and crushed hopes as the Samsa family go about their banal business. Grete, the daughter, lifts her violin, but is forbidden to play by her father’s wagging finger; with her parents she sits down to breakfast at the start of what seems another unremarkable day. These are lives measured out in each weary step of a joyless diurnal routine. But upstairs, Gregor has spectacularly subverted the norm; and as Cave and Ellis’s music turns into a disconcerting rumble, we glimpse him in silhouette, crouching, scarab-shaped, beneath the bedsheets.

Borkur Jonsson’s set is brilliantly dual-perspective, with Gregor’s attic room presented in aerial view while his family beetle about below. He is their shameful secret: a skeleton that won’t stay in his closet, his bed like an open grave, his existence a living death. When Grete and her mother strip all his belongings from the room and lock the door, they rob Gregor of his identity and his humanity. In his new cell-like environment, starved of food and smeared in his own excrement, Gregor reminds us of an abused political prisoner.

Scuttling across the ceiling or crawling down the banisters, Björn Thors as Gregor is remarkable. As his circumstances worsen, he seems to waste away almost visibly. Meanwhile the family’s movements grow more aggressively military, with Tom Mannion’s Father strutting absurdly in the bank worker’s uniform he refuses to remove even to sleep, and Unnur Osp Stefánsdóttir’s Grete swooning with sexual excitement when their creepily fastidious new lodger announces his intention to join the army. As for Elva Osk Ólafsdóttir as Mother, she suffers some pangs of concern for her son, but retches at the sight of him.

Chillingly, part of the family’s disgust springs not just from Gregor’s transformation, but from the fact that it renders him economically useless since he can no longer support the entire household on his salary.

It’s grimly disturbing, but illuminated by such brilliant theatricality that it’s impossible to tear your eyes away. Potent, startling, visceral and thoughtful.

Box office: 0870 0500511 to Feb 2, then touring to Mar 15

Lyric Hammersmith, London
Lyn Gardner / Wednesday January 16, 2008
The Guardian

Vertigo-inducing … Nina Dogg Filippusdottor (Grete), Kelly Hunter (Mother) and Ingvar E Sigurdsson (Father) . Photograph: Tristram Kenton

Steven Berkoff’s 1969 physical theatre adaptation of Kafka’s story influenced one generation of theatre-makers, and now David Farr and Gísli Örn Gardasson’s acrobatic version, first performed here in 2006, is likely to influence another.

It transforms the tale of Prague commercial traveller Gregor Samsa, who wakes up one morning to find that he has become a beetle, into a haunting parable of the coming horrors of the Nazi regime. “This is nice,” declares Gregor’s mum desperately as the family attempt to take tea with Gregor perched on the banisters. Soon the family’s wretched attempts to maintain respectability and earn money when the major breadwinner has been turned into an insect take their toll. They stop thinking of Gregor as a human being and, in their fear and revulsion, neglect and mistreat him. Gregor’s sister, Grete, who was his main defender becomes his principal tormentor, falling for lodger Herr Fischer, a man who clearly has a bright future in the SS.

If this all sounds heavy-handed, it is not in the least, not even when the lighting transforms Gregor’s bedroom into a prison complete with bars, suggesting the 21st-century horrors that occur when you treat people as sub-human. True, the 80-minute show is at its best at the beginning and in the final astonishing 25 minutes, but Börkur Jónsson’s brilliant design, with its skewed perspectives, lets you know exactly both what it is like to be Gregor and how dizzying it is to watch him, as well as supplying a final visual coup. Add to that Nick Cave and Warren Ellis’s unsettling, dread-filled score and a game cast, and you have a vertigo-inducing treat.

· Until February 2. Box office: 0871 221 1722. Then touring.

Lyric Hammersmith
King Street, Hammersmith, W6 0QA
Fiona Mountford’s rating
By Fiona Mountford, Evening Standard 15.01.08

Leap into the unknown: Björn Thors as Gregor, the travelling salesman-turned- insect

When you’ve got a show as accessible and successful as this co-production between the Lyric Hammersmith and Icelandic company Vesturport, it’s worth under-going metamorphoses with the cast if there is still an audience eager to fill another run. Thus the brainchild of adaptors/directors David Farr and Gísli Orn Gardarsson plays in W6 for the third time but without the acclaimed Gardarsson in Kafka’s central role of man-turned-insect.

Intriguingly, no one here actually specifies what travelling salesman Gregor (Björn Thors) awakes to find himself transformed into one seemingly mundane weekday morning. Nor does he, but the horrified screams of his family make it clear that he has become one of society’s untouchables, to be locked away, forgotten about and ideally starved to death. “Solving” his problem is the one response that is never going to get a look-in.

The niftiest idea comes in Börkur Jónsson’s split-level design of the Samsa family’s house. Downstairs is the conformity of the dining room but directly above a startling thing has happened: Gregor’s bedroom has been rotated through 90 degrees. Thus the bed is now flush with the wall and the lamp stand sticks out like an exercise bar. What else is Thors to do but swing on it?

Thors’s agility is astonishing; his feet don’t seem to touch the ground as he leaps about, clings to the ceiling and tries to see his family by sliding headfirst down the banisters. We could do with more of this athleticism during the stolid central section, when the family attempts to take in a lodger and the whole piece threatens to become a simple satire of bourgeois values.

This 1912 novella is, of course, an allegory that can be pulled in all sorts of directions but Farr and Gardarsson somewhat limit its potential by relocating it to the Thirties and flagging up ominous indications of the rise of Nazism.

By the end, Unnur Osp Stefánsdóttir’s impressively feisty Grete seems a prime candidate for the Hitler Youth. Overall, though, it’s an enjoyable nightmare of an evening.

• Until 2 Feb (08700 500 511
Lyric Theatre
Metamorphosis Theater Page