”As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a giant insect.” – Franz Kafka, Metamorphosis, 1915.
Ladies and gentlemen, I beg applause for the greatest first line in the entire history of literature. Even if the translation is disputed.
I love myself a bit of Kafka, so I do. I’m a civil servant, after all – I quite often feel like I’m living through The Castle and The Trial in an average working day. When I found out that The Rep was due to entertain Vesturport/Lyric Hammersmith’s Anglo-Icelandic stage version of Metamorphosis I was almost ecstatic. Music from Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, too! I would say that someone up there liked me, but Cave would tell me off for believing in an interventionist God.
It was off to The Rep with me on Friday the 29th of Feb, therefore. A two-level set (with the family’s dining room downstairs and Gregor’s bedroom – appearing to be turned on its side for no obvious reason – upstairs) with handholds on the walls allowed Björn Thors to portray the transformed young Samsa without a costume. He appears human to us, but scales the walls and leaps from one piece of furniture to the next in a convincingly animalistic way (I can’t help but note that he showed an impressive degree of stamina, too).
There are obviously 381 entirely different ways to interpret Metamorphosis, but the one laid on thick here was the idea of social groups ostracising elements of themselves for immediate benefit to the rest, and the loss of humanity that is thus engendered. The play finishes with the rest of the family in a vignette of sterile idyll; they relax and throw petals in the dusk, despite the fact that their son is gone, their ideal lodger has walked out leaving ominous threats, and they presumably are still in great financial difficulty. This was (sadly) about the only point where the Cave/Ellis score actually did much beyond melt into the background for me – Cave’s sonorous voice rang out in a plaintive song, and the hollowness of their supposed happiness was emphasised. The Nazi angle (events later to happen in Germany were something this story was so very prescient of when read this way, and of course half of Kafka’s family fell victim to the camps) was emphasised, in the military air of Gregor’s boss, the dark statements of the prospective lodger, and the elder Herr Samsa’s new black-shirted porter’s uniform that he won’t take off (and why not? Work, as the fellow said, makes free).
It was all effective in spite of occasional spots of what definitely felt like over-acting (was it deliberate? It sort-of felt like it might have been). I’m inclined to just put it down to the fact that some plays don’t really lend themselves well to big theatres, and the big booming voices that are thus necessary. I can’t emphasise enough how minor a quibble this is, though, and how nothing was spoilt as a result of it. The tour continues aroundabout the country until the fifth of April I believe, and I’d recommend a look if you get chance.
Dizzle Kenizzle writes about this here.