Review: Metamorphosis (Tron)

When Vanishing Point decided to adapt Franz Kafka’s classic surrealist short story, they had no way of knowing that a show about a man waking up with an inexplicable illness, forced to stay in isolation, and becoming physically estranged from those around him, would cut so close to the bone on opening night. The story of Gregor Samsa (Sam Stoppard), a man who wakes up to find himself completely transformed, takes on a very different meaning in this production. Though I usually shy away from spoilers, this show is difficult to review without them, so it interests you do see it first.

When Gregor awakes, he discovers there are two of himself; one that speaks English and resembles what he looked like before he fell asleep, and the one everyone else can see. Speaking in Italian (with subtitles), Nico Guerzoni plays the Gregor that people can see and hear, though everyone he sees is repulsed by the sight and sound of him. A surrealist nightmare becomes a story about how minorities become seen as vermin, and how excuses for oppression spring from an us-vs-them mentality.

The duality of the Gregor we recognise, and the Gregor we don’t prevent any similar mentality form for the audience. It questions how society divides itself and strips the humanity from anything and anyone we don’t immediately recognise as similar to ourselves. The twisted imagery and bitterly believable performances make it difficult to look away from, even though the pacing and plot of the performances are stretched as it is.

Gregor’s job as a travelling salesman is rewritten as a “self-employed” delivery cyclist for “Grubs Up”; a transition that is eerily effortless. What doesn’t quite stack up is the situation of the family. They rely on Gregor for all their income, and after the transformation are forced to find jobs of their own. The economics of a household of four living off the pay of one delivery cyclist is too unrealistic to seriously speculate, but the bigger issue is that it’s left ambiguous whether the audience should be sympathetic to their plight. Surely they are unconscionably inconsiderate not to have done so sooner? Why is this sad music playing? The same is true of the short story, but without knowing that it would be easy to confuse what characteristics and ideas Vanishing Point are trying to communicate.

There’s something very grotesque about Metamorphosis, even when the central image of a man-cockroach isn’t created on stage. A kind of sickening, skin-crawling cruelty that feels very human. It may be slow at times, but it is an unquestionably theatrical and effective reimagining. Four stars.

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