Franz Kafka’s novella about a young man, who wakes up one morning to find that he has transformed into a giant insect and the response of his family to his predicament, has spawned many adaptations. Perhaps the most durable is Stephen Berkoff’s 1969 version which is here given a fascinating dada production by The Street Theatre.
Directed with flair by Adam Brionowski, Metamorphosis takes place in an impressively surreal setting designed by Imogen Keen that transforms the intimate Street 2 into a grim, harshly lit environment for both audience and actors. Fresh cabbages act as both decoration and sustenance for the wretched family.
Each of the characters is introduced individually, appearing startlingly at a small window. Their movements are mechanical and stylised, their expressions often blank, doll-like. At the beginning of the play they form an insect-like shape signalling what is to come. At one point during the play the use Dali-esque masks to become prospective lodgers.
Despite the grotesque movement and heavy make-up each of the actors cleverly manages mine the inherent humanity of their characters to involve the audience in the absurd and absorbing events which inexorably unfold.
Christopher Samuel Carroll, his naturally strong presence enhanced by exaggerated, heavily lined make-up, gives a compelling performance as the father-figure, Mr. Samsa, practically bereft of any patriarchal emotions by the struggle to exist. As his wife, Mrs Samsa, Ruth Pierloor is equally compelling as she struggles to support her husband, her loyalties conflicted by her maternal feelings for her distressed son, Gregor.
Stefanie Lekkas is quite captivating as the daughter, Greta, at first, defiant in her determination to nurture her brother, but finally, as his predicament becomes more and more dire and beyond solution, complicit in ensuring her own survival.
As the unfortunate Gregor, Dylan Van Den Berg captures attention with an intensely physical performance in which he’s required to climb walls, swing from ropes and writhe in slime, all of which he copes with manfully.
A pity therefore that his final transformation comes as an anti-climax, because, despite early struggles with detachable intestines, the only evidence of change in his appearance by the end of the play, is the slime that clings to his person, otherwise he remains steadfastly human, raising a question as to what it was about his appearance that his family found so repulsive.
That quibble aside, this is a very accomplished production which offers its audience the too-rare opportunity to experience brilliantly performed dada theatre, and as such should be embraced by theatre students as well as by anyone interested in theatre history.
The Street Theatre, 15 Childers Street, Canberra City West
Performance: Saturday 17 August 2019
Season continues to 31 August 2019
Information and Bookings: www.thestreet.org.au
Image: Christopher Samuel Carroll (Mr. Samsa), Dylan Van Den Berg (Gregor Samsa), Stefanie Lekkas (Greta) and Ruth Pieloor (Mrs. Samsa) star in Metamorphosis – photo by Shelly Higgs
Review: Bill Stephens OAM