Last Updated on 8th November 2023
Paul T Davies reviews Kafka’s Metamorphosis at the Mercury Theatre Colchester as part of its tour.
After decades in which Steven Berkoff’s adaptation of the Kafka classic story has gripped students and Fringe productions, any new adaptation is to be welcomed. This refreshing take by poet and legend Lemn Sissay and powerhouse physical theatre company Frantic Assembly hits the theme of the play, (the corroding effects of capitalism on the human body and soul), soundly in the bullseye. But whereas Berkoff began his adaptation firmly at the start of the story, this version takes an age to get going. With our interest in identity and shaping identity, it makes sense that the opening sequence feature Gregor and his sister, Grete, trying on different poses and moods for the outside world, but it is far too long, and, an occasional fault of the production, the soundtrack is loud and intrusive, often overwhelming the poet’s words. It takes a while to find the right balance between physical theatre and spoken word.
The production is focussed by an extraordinary performance by Felipe Pacheco as Gregor, with the most extraordinary gymnastic physicality, becoming gradually more insect-like as the show goes on. Designer Jon Bauser has created an ingenious set of hidden ledges and crannies that Pacheco can hang from, with the ingenious use of a light fitting being a show highlight. Hanna Sinclair Robinson does a good job of showing Grete’s growing maturity and curiosity, and her loyalty to Gregor, and Joe Layton is a chilling presence as Chief Clark and an offensive lodger. The parents are a little sidelined in the first act, coming forward in Act Two, with an excellent sequence showing the crushing effects of work on Mr. Samsa, (Troy Glasgow), very effectively played, and Louise Mai Newberry capturing the resilience of women, adapting to try and survive and bring up her family.
Some sequences are stretched to breaking point, for example, Mr. Samsa’s mantra of “Beggers can’t be choosers” is over-deployed, and the show would possibly work better as a brisk ninety-minute interval-free experience, really seeing the metamorphosis of the whole family in clarity. With so many Frantic Assembly tropes in place, I occasionally thought it would make a good purely physical theatre piece, but the text shines through when the script is given room to breathe.
On tour, for details visit Home | Frantic Assembly