Tue 16th – Sat 20th February 2016


Heather Elizabeth Shorthouse

at 00:23 on 17th Feb 2016



The performance of Stephen Berkoff‘s Metamorphosis at Corpus Playroom, based on Kafka’s novella, provides no easy viewing experience.

As we wait for the play to begin, clicking and hissing bug-like noises emerge from masked figures, twitching and writhing on the ground. It was rather irritating and made for an uncomfortable wait; little did I know that this pretty much set the tone for the rest of the play.

The play starts suddenly, with the invasive sound of a loud alarm clock. The actors perform manic, robotic actions, evoking the lifelessness of a busy city life, the hum of the city plays in the background, and the city landscape is shown on the screens behind, creating a detachedness and otherworldliness suggestive of a dead and depressing stressful life in the working world.

Throughout the play, a violin screeches unnervingly, and ticking, clicking, scratching noises made me feel as though an insect had crawled inside my head and proceeded to slowly eat at my brain. The transformation scene in particular is almost unbearable to watch; half naked, groaning, thrusting and contorting, Gregor is covered in paint by masked acrobatic companions who then proceed to swing around the cage-like contraption which dominates the set throughout the play. The stress of the viewer is added to by incredibly harsh strobe lighting.

The paint applied during Gregor’s metamorphosis remains for the entirety of the play, leaving a disgusting residue and making Gregor quite repulsive to look at. (I know, this is the point. Loss of humanity. But still, a play has to be watchable.) Everyone, even Gregor’s devoted sister Greta, is repulsed by the creature he has become. Greta’s development is very well acted; we are introduced to a quiet, diligent character who eventually becomes hardened with bitterness and hatred towards the burden her brother has come to be, passionately spitting “Get rid of it”; the scene is particularly poignant as her brother sits not a metre away, listening and understanding. Gregor’s animalistic consumption of his meals is so repulsive as to not only put the family off their own food but also to bring the audience to the verge of vomiting. The hatred of his father, who seems to be constantly shouting and who refers to his son as “that thing” is very powerfully portrayed; he emanates hatred towards everything. The mother’s pathetic pity towards her son is particularly well-acted, and her genuine tears after her son’s death are almost brilliantly poignant.

Much needed peaceful respite is provided by a flashback scene on the screen behind, as we travel back to Christmastime for the family, a happy time when all was well.

The indifferent annoyance of the family is well acted to the point of humour. Each family member continues their own conversation, unreactive to Gregor’s desperate attempts to get through to them. The deadened apathetic voices of the family are used throughout the play, and get the last word; we are left with the depressing realisation that despite Gregor’s agony, no-one truly cares.

All in all, I found the play a physically unbearable viewing experience, hard to watch, and exhausting. I can only try to imagine how the actors must have felt. I left with frayed nerves and a headache.


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