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Feature: Cuckoo at the Unicorn Theatre

Posted on 13 January 2014 by Laura Turner

suhalya el-bushraOpening this week at the Unicorn Theatre is a new play by Hollyoaks writer Suhayla El-Bushra, whose play Pigeons recently ran at the Royal Court Theatre. Cuckoo is, in her own words, “a play about an unlikely friendship between two teenage girls, Jenny and Nadine, and how this friendship is tested when Jenny becomes jealous of the relationship that develops between Nadine and Jenny’s mum, Erica. Although it’s about teenagers it also raises questions about parenting – how responsible should we be for children whose own parents have failed or are unable look after them?”

What inspired you to write this piece?

I was working in a Pupil Referral Unit with teenage girls who had been excluded from mainstream education. I had worked there for some time, mainly with boys, but I had come back from maternity leave and there were suddenly a lot more girls attending. I was intrigued by the way their behaviour was different from the boys. They were much more charming and sweet – but then would go out and get arrested for beating people up after school. I wanted to explore what it was that made girls go out and commit acts of violence; young women aren’t ‘supposed’ or expected to be aggressive, so I was interested in female anger – where it comes from and what happens when it’s suppressed. I had also recently become a mother, so I think I was subconsciously looking at that through Erica’s character – at the devotion and sacrifice involved in having a child, but also the resentment that can stem from that.

There must have been challenges in writing that story. 

I hadn’t written a play before – I’d only written feature film scripts – so I was getting my head around writing for a different medium. The first draft had loads of scenes, several locations and a cast of about 20, but it was also structured like a screenplay. It took me a while to work out what would and wouldn’t work on stage, but luckily I had the chance to work with some actors and a director on the characters and the story quite early on in the process, so I learnt a huge amount doing that.

I started Cuckoo a long time ago and kept coming back to it at various stages, with long gaps in between. I spent time developing it in Brighton, but after I’d written the second draft I had the chance to work on it some more with Nathan Curry (who’s directing it now) for a couple of days at the National Theatre Studio with some professional actors. So that really moved it on as well. And it’s great that Nathan has been on board since then, partly because he’s a brilliant director, but it also meant that when we started rehearsals I knew he already had a very strong understanding of what the play was about.

Having written for TV shows such as Hollyoaks, just how different is writing for the stage?

In terms of form, that’s a tough one to answer, because for every rule you can find about the difference between writing for stage and screen, you can also find an example that breaks that rule. For me, the main difference is about the process. There are usually a lot fewer people involved in putting on a play than there is in creating a TV series or a feature film, so it tends to be you, a director and some actors in a rehearsal room trying things out. It’s a very immediate and direct way of working. In TV you might work on a script with script editors and producers without meeting the actors and director, so you do miss out on that part of the process and you can feel a bit detached from the end product when you finally see it.

How do you balance the young girls’ stories with the role of the mother in the play?

I think it’s definitely more the girls’ story, although Erica is so important in terms of driving the plot. It’s her behaviour that influences the girls’ actions, but the focus is more on the effect that has on the girls than on her. There’s a slight imbalance in that there’s less explanation for Erica’s behaviour: it’s very clear what’s motivating the girls, whereas the actress playing Erica has to do a lot more digging, but it is in there.

What do you draw on as a writer?

Anything and everything. Books, articles, things I overhear on the bus. I think you can’t help but put some of your own personal experience into whatever you write though, even if you try really hard to avoid it.

Why is the Unicorn the right home for this play?

I think the fact that, as well as staging work for young audiences, they’re also keen to put on plays that explore our relationship with young people, as Cuckoo does, makes it the right home. I’m very proud that it’s being staged at The Unicorn as I’ve seen some brilliant work there recently.

I’ve been involved with both [rehearsals and casting]. I think it’s vital for writers to sit in on rehearsals and understand that process. I don’t ever feel like I have a huge amount to offer by that stage of the proceedings, but it’s interesting to see how it takes shape. I think you learn a lot and that it definitely informs the next thing you write.

Cuckoo plays at the Unicorn Theatre from 14 to 25 January. For tickets and more information, visit the Unicorn Theatre website.

Laura Turner

Laura Turner

Laura trained as a writer with Hull Truck Theatre, BBC New Talent and the Royal Court Theatre. She has worked extensively with touring theatre company Chapterhouse, where she is currently Writer in Residence. Laura has previously written for BBC EastEnders: E20 and her adaptation of Jane Eyre toured theatres with Hull Truck Theatre Company at the start of 2013. She is now working on an original play for the theatre, as well as projects with Bolton Octagon, Middle Child Theatre and The Ashton Group, Cumbria. She has been long-listed for the Bruntwood Prize for Playwrighting and the Adrienne Benham Award.

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Spotlight on Grassroots’ Summer of Love

Posted on 18 June 2013 by Laura Turner

Summer’s finally here (possibly, if the sun shines today…) and it’s that time of year when one thing is on a lot of people’s minds. If you’re searching for your own slice of summer romance, London company Grassroots might just have the answer for you with its latest set of Shakespeare plays with the theme ‘Summer of Love’. It’s the company’s most ambitious project to date and Boris Mitkov from the artistic team tells me more about working without a director, devising and having lots of good old fashioned family-friendly fun.

Tell us a bit about your new season of shows.

The shows are all rehearsed from scratch, by one ensemble, in just three short weeks, and completely devised by the company. Romeo and Juliet is a play that requires little introduction because its universal themes of love, honour and rivalry are so sensitively explored, through both comedy and drama, that it has become arguably one of the best known plays in the world. What we believe we have created is an exciting, funny (at times hilarious) and tender staging that can appeal to anyone. It is, incidentally, the first time Grassroots has tackled a tragedy and we’re very excited to show it to new audiences. The second play is Love’s Labour’s Lost. This is perhaps one of Shakespeare’s lesser known pieces although it was successful enough in his time to spawn a sequel: Love’s Labour’s Won. The company is incredibly excited to be exploring this play because it has a very funny premise which is: four lords have sworn off women in pursuit of self improvement and study. As one might expect in a Shakespearean comedy, no sooner have they done so but they are instantly overwhelmed by the arrival of the Princess of France and her ladies in waiting. The supporting characters are also full of ridiculous and side-splittingly funny one-liners and see themselves in no-end of bizarre situations.

So who make up Grassroots?

The company itself has been running for some time. It was started in London by Siobhan Daly after she had spent some time in Exeter where she met Mark Oram, the founder of Grassroots in America. Although still very young, the company has huge ambitions about making excellent theatre accessible to everyone and providing a platform for new and young talent to be noticed by the public and the arts industry. We are an “original practices” company. This means that for the most part we work as Shakespeare’s actors would have worked; this includes not having a director, condensed rehearsal periods, and having props, costume and set all supplied by the actors themselves. We have modernised the concept in one respect by casting gender blind. We do not have all male companies, and men and women are just as likely to find themselves in roles of the opposite gender.

So what style are the shows presented in?

Having no director gives us endless possibilities in terms of style. We try not to impose concepts on the text because we feel that unless they are carefully thought through and implemented, those productions open themselves up to criticism about failing to maintain or justify the period in which they are set. Instead we look to locate the settings in a place that is identifiable to audiences, something that gives the piece a more contemporary feel. This is once again a literal reading of the original practices method. Shakespeare’s actors had access to clothes of their period but if we wore those clothes now they would be ridiculous and make it seem as if we were setting the plays in the past. The biggest style element is the irreverence with which we approach performing the text. It was written for the masses, and because tastes and understandings have changed since then, Shakespeare plays can often be marked as elitist and of little appeal to the fun-loving, musical and comedy fans. We hope to shatter that perception.

How did the idea for theme Summer of Love come about?

The Summer of Love came about because it is so rare for a company to present two pieces in rep on the fringe and we wanted to really make the season instantly identifiable with one label. It follows on from the Lion and the Unicorn’s concept of a Magical Christmas season and the title is a reflection of the themes of the play. We like to be flexible with our programming and that means talking to venues to try to build in shows that can complement there existing plans. We are trying to work our way through the canon of Shakespeare but as you can imagine, with two shows at a time we will soon run out of the well know works and we are excited about staging some of the lesser known but equally as excellent pieces. More than anything the title should be an invitation to audiences to embrace the “lovely” weather and come down to the theatre to be transported to another world.

Grassroots has previously performed open-air in the “lovely” weather – which do you prefer?

Performing outside is a different game. Subtlety has its place and I would strongly argue that does include open-air performances. You have to be heard and you have to be seen by every person watching, however far away they are. I think it would be impossible to choose between the two. Performing outside enabled the company to offer free shows to the public and we are very keen to continue this. In fact, our Grassroots Offshoots company will be back at Victoria Embankment Gardens straight after the main company wraps the Summer of Love season. Being inside offers the benefits of lighting design and sound design. It can really help to build the intimacy between performer and the audience. Suddenly, sharing asides or soliloquies with audience members carries heightened meaning. At that short distance you can see the whites of their eyes and they can see every twitch in your performance.

How did you get involved with the company and what’s your role?

I came to the company last summer (2012) when I joined the ensemble for the Off-West End nominated production of Much Ado About Nothing. I loved the way the company worked and really encouraged Siobhan, our Artistic Director, to push for bigger and better things which she has done tirelessly. My role varies. I share a good deal of the production responsibilities with Siobhan which include casting, booking venues or rehearsal spaces, editing photos and online content, sourcing props and set building to name but a few. A huge amount of work goes into every production, in order to get to the position where we can make an ensemble feel free and comfortable to devise, we spend months going over the details. At Christmas, I wasn’t part of the ensemble because I had other projects to pursue and so I was present at rehearsals to help with running lines, offering advice as an outside pair of eyes, lighting and occasionally sewing curtains. This time around Siobhan is stepping back from the performance side and maintaining the backstage running of the company and I am “master of play” at rehearsals.

What’s next for Grassroots?

Our young company, Grassroots Offshoots who will be performing As You Like It in August. Beyond that, we are keen to do several things: to start running workshops and to continue searching for areas in London where we can bring excellent theatre to audiences that might not be regular theatre goers. So many people who audition for us and even more of those who join the ensemble have commented on how much they enjoy the way we run our auditions and rehearsals. It is all about enabling the actors and we would love to share that supportive environment and way of working with more people, so look out for workshops towards the end of the year. It is an excellent way to meet people and for the company to meet you. We are always looking to nurture talent and we’d love to have more opportunities to do so. In the long term, it would be great to find a way to take some of our knowledge to schools and use our talents to help engage the next generation with this rich and wonderful heritage.

What can audiences expect from a night out with Grassroots?

I would strongly recommend finding out first hand but for those who might desire something to whet their appetites I can tell you this: you can enjoy a day out in London before heading to the very well located Old Red Lion Theatre in Angel, surrounded by plenty of restaurants and shops. Then you can soak up the atmosphere of the truly wonderful Old Red Lion which is usually buzzing with conversation and lots of theatregoers. Perhaps grab a drink at pub before the show starts. Once you head upstairs just forget about the day and the pub, and let the company transport you to Verona or Navarre, whichever takes your fancy. You can expect to laugh (a lot), possibly cry if you’re so inclined. There will be lots of sweet moments, positively tons of silly moments and definitely a few thrilling moments that will have you on the edge of your seat. The best bit is all this can be shared with the whole family. There is nothing inappropriate. There is an interval. And then you can even have a chat with the cast as they come out through the pub (or sit down to have a drink in the pub). And the tickets are just £15. Price of a cinema ticket but the difference is this is an experience you won’t forget (and it’s in real 3D, without the need for sunglasses inside).

Image credit: Paul Seaby

Grassroots are performing Romeo and Juliet and Love’s Labour’s Lost alternate nights at the Old Red Lion, Angel, until 27 July. For tickets and more information, visit http://www.grassrootsshakespearelondon.com/booking.html.

Laura Turner

Laura Turner

Laura trained as a writer with Hull Truck Theatre, BBC New Talent and the Royal Court Theatre. She has worked extensively with touring theatre company Chapterhouse, where she is currently Writer in Residence. Laura has previously written for BBC EastEnders: E20 and her adaptation of Jane Eyre toured theatres with Hull Truck Theatre Company at the start of 2013. She is now working on an original play for the theatre, as well as projects with Bolton Octagon, Middle Child Theatre and The Ashton Group, Cumbria. She has been long-listed for the Bruntwood Prize for Playwrighting and the Adrienne Benham Award.

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Second Shot Productions is Glory Dazed at Soho Theatre

Posted on 16 April 2013 by Laura Turner

Glorydazed @ EdFringe  Alex Brenner, please credit (_D322342)

UK theatre has a rich heritage of work outside theatrical spaces, from schools to site-specific and from universities to prisons. But theatre and film company Second Shot Productions is doing something a little bit different. Based within the walls of HMP & YOI Doncaster, the company works with serving prisoners, ex-offenders and others. With projects ranging from film-making and graphic design through to drama and arts projects, offered in both custodial and non-custodial settings, Second Shot arrives at Soho Theatre next week with its unique show, Glory Dazed.

Who are Second Shot Productions?

We’re a company and trade for profit, but as a social enterprise all of that profit is invested back into our projects. We’re committed to providing education, training and employment to serving prisoners and ex-offenders, and using the arts to facilitate positive change. To that end we currently employ 15 serving prisoners at HMP & YOI Doncaster who work for the company full time. They are trained to deliver our services whilst working towards a BTEC in Creative Media Production.

The ideas and stories we explore in our theatre productions tend to be those that have some kind of relevance to prisoners and ex-offenders. We have worked with our team at HMP Doncaster to look at theatre as a way of exploring restorative justice and drugs awareness, for example, and then performing these pieces on the wings of the prison so as to make them available to as much of the prison population as possible. We also produce regular children’s plays in collaboration with students studying Applied Theatre at Central School of Speech and Drama which allows the prisoner participants’ families the chance to come and see a different side to their loved one as they perform on stage.

How does being based within the walls of a prison affect who you are as a company?

It allows us to work towards reducing reoffending by offering training and education in theatre, film, design and music that may otherwise be unavailable to those serving custodial sentences. Working at Second Shot is seen as a privilege by those who work for us and in them we instil a sense of pride in doing something constructive with their time in prison.

Working in a professional job for the first time can be daunting when you’re not in prison, but it is an opportunity to learn how to hold down a job upon release, whether that be in the arts or not the fundamentals remain the same.

It’s also important for us to allow our team to explore talents they may have or just be developing if this is their first chance of working in theatre and film; some are very natural theatre practitioners whilst others have a great eye for film or turn of phrase for journalism. In developing skills in these areas, the team comes together on corporate projects as well as those designed for the BTEC.

Where did the idea for Glory Dazed come from?

I’d been working at HMP Doncaster for a few months when the Governor, who was also new to the prison, asked if I’d noticed that many of the prisoners seemed to have had experiences in the Armed Forces before they came to prison. I hadn’t noticed it until that point, but it struck me as true and I started to do a bit of research. I discovered that some organisations working in criminal justice think that as many as one in ten of the UK prison population are ex-servicemen, although the Government puts the figure a lot lower than this.

Could you tell us a bit about the show itself?

Glory Dazed tells the story of Ray, a returning soldier who turns up, after hours, at his mate’s pub in Doncaster, looking for his estranged wife. It takes place in real time over an hour as Ray tries to win Carla back, only to discover that she is seeing his mate Simon. The story unfolds to reveal the truths of Ray and Carla’s relationship but also the reasons why she stayed with him for so long.

The play is also Second Shot’s first full-scale professional theatre production. We rehearsed it at HMP Doncaster so that prisoners and ex-offenders could take part in the project as stage managers, set builders, graphic and web designers, photographers, film-makers and musicians.

How did it develop during theses early stages at Doncaster?

We began with a number of discussion groups involving ex-servicemen serving prison sentences at HMP & YOI Doncaster. The men discussed their experiences of both being in the armed forces and their return to civilian life. To varying degrees they revealed difficulties with alcohol, aggression and multiculturalism, and a deterioration in their relationship with their families.

Following these discussions I took away all the information and developed a story and the opening section of the play. This was taken back to the ex-servicemen, this time through a number of drama workshops run by the play’s director, in which they were asked to improvise alongside professional actors, to further develop the characters and the story. This helped to provide further ideas and insights from which a first complete draft of the play was written.

What was the relationship like between the writer and the ex-servicemen involved in creating the show?

It was a great experience working with the ex-servicemen. In follow-up sessions, they all said that they found the process really interesting and valuable, to be able to share their experiences in this way. By the end of the development process I’d like to think there was a mutual respect between the ex-servicemen, the actors and me. They were very frank about what they were willing to discuss, but I was adamant from the outset that Ray wouldn’t be based on a particular person and that none of the stories in the play would be real. I was more interested in trying to find an emotional truth than in depicting something that had actually happened to a particular individual. Some of the stories that the ex-servicemen told were harrowing and very moving, but it would have felt exploitative to put these experiences into a play.

Has the production evolved much over the past year from visiting the Edinburgh and Adelaide festivals?

Yes, the show has changed since its first festival run and that’s for a number of reasons. Due to availability, we had to recast the role of Leanne and that meant that there would inevitably be some changes as to how the actors worked together as a different group. The original cast members had the opportunity to re-examine their roles between the two tours as well and this meant that when rehearsals for Adelaide started, they had each gone on a journey with their characters since playing them in Edinburgh. That showed through in Adelaide as they became increasingly comfortable in each role. I also think that having to consider how aspects of the play would go down with an Australian audience made everyone focus more closely on how each character could engage with the audience and this brought an added edge to the performances as well. The overall result is very positive, because now the play has an intensity to it that has only developed over time. The sense of urgency and desperation of the situation makes it feel very claustrophobic and I’m hoping that this will be further heightened at Soho Theatre.

What kind of issues are you trying to tackle with the production?

When we began the discussions, we started by considering the question: why do so many ex-servicemen end up in prison? The ex-servicemen provided varied and interesting answers that were in part what I was expecting and knew to be true, about lack of support and reacclimatisation to civilian life, but they also raised things I hadn’t considered, like certain personality types being drawn to the army, and how these might be the same personality types who could find themselves in trouble with the law. I don’t know whether this is true or not, but it seemed like an interesting thing to explore.

The ex-servicemen were all different ages and had served in a number of different places as a result, but it seemed that age didn’t dictate whether you were more or less likely to have difficulties when leaving the forces. Some struggled because they went from a very regimented life to a much freer one. Many had seen really horrific things and had either received very minimal or no counselling to deal with those things. Some of the men were from backgrounds where they felt they had very little opportunity and that going into the Army had merely postponed the almost inevitable downfall of becoming involved in crime and being imprisoned. Some had been discharged from the Army because their mental stability had been in question, though this wasn’t followed up in their civilian life. Some, particularly those involved in special operations, talked about being trained as killers, but not ‘detrained’ when those skills were no longer required. Some of the men mentioned a big drinking culture in the army and that for many years, periods of leave had been characterised by getting very drunk and getting into fights. While the army was in some way tolerant of this, the men found themselves in trouble with the police when they behaved in the same way on civvy street without the army’s protection.

Finally, what can audiences expect from the production?

Sometimes people ask where the humour comes from in such a bleak theme, but I think even the bleakest stories have humour in them, for the simple reason that human beings are funny and our sense of humour is almost at its sharpest at moments of adversity. One of the things that really stood out about meeting the ex-servicemen was that they were quite witty and funny and enjoyed a very entertaining banter with each other. This is also true of prisoners generally in my experience; there’s a certain gallows humour that is generated when human beings share difficult experiences together.

Hopefully they will see it as funny and entertaining but also because the characters are believable, audiences will engage with them and the themes raised in the play. I think characters that behave badly but are still likeable are very attractive to audiences, because we’re all flawed but we all have redeeming features.

Glory Dazed plays at Soho Theatre Upstairs from 23 April to 11 May. For tickets and more information, visit http://www.sohotheatre.com/whats-on/glory-dazed/.

Image credit: Alex Brenner

Laura Turner

Laura Turner

Laura trained as a writer with Hull Truck Theatre, BBC New Talent and the Royal Court Theatre. She has worked extensively with touring theatre company Chapterhouse, where she is currently Writer in Residence. Laura has previously written for BBC EastEnders: E20 and her adaptation of Jane Eyre toured theatres with Hull Truck Theatre Company at the start of 2013. She is now working on an original play for the theatre, as well as projects with Bolton Octagon, Middle Child Theatre and The Ashton Group, Cumbria. She has been long-listed for the Bruntwood Prize for Playwrighting and the Adrienne Benham Award.

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Vesturport’s vermin and Kafka’s Metamorphosis

Posted on 04 March 2013 by Holly O'Mahony

metamorphosis-photos

Jonathan McGuinness plays numerous roles in Vesturport’s reinvention of Kafka’s literary masterpiece, Metamorphosis. Complete with gymnastics and a spectacular set, this highly physical adaptation has been playing  at the Lyric Theatre in Hammersmith, on its third London outing since the original sell-out tour in 2006. Having reached the end of its run, McGuinness reflects on his experiences of both the play and working with the Icelandic company Vesturport.

Metamorphosis itself begins with Gregor Samsa waking to find himself transformed into an unspecified type of creature. His family are, understandably, horrified. But for McGuinness, it wasn’t the story alone that drew him to this production: “Initially what excited me was the opportunity to be working with Vestuport: learning about the way they work, rather than the specific roles,” he explains. “When I first met them, the script wasn’t even finalised. I knew what the parts were, but these parts changed quite a lot during rehearsals.”

Companies wishing to stage adaptations of Kafka’s German novels generally use English translations of the original text, or do their own interpretation of the German text. “David and Gisli [Farr and Örn Gardarsson, the directors] essentially worked from English translations, however they did look at the opening lines quite a lot.” These “opening lines” have caused debate amongst numerous translators and today there are still two different versions of these lines. The first states: “As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a monstrous vermin”. However, the term “monstrous vermin” becomes “gigantic insect” in the other most common version, as translators dispute which is closer to Kafka’s German term, “verwandelt”.  Because of the difficulty of this translation, McGuinness explains that “[Vesturport] didn’t want to specify what the creature Gregor transforms into was. We had quite a lot of debate about how to stage this, wondering whether we would have some sort of costume to represent his transformation, for example. In the end, we settled on not doing any of that, instead, leaving it to the audience’s imagination.”

Although the book is called Metamorphosis, McGuinness points out that Gregor has transformed before the play actually begins. “What you see in the play and what you read in the book is actually the metamorphosis of everyone else around him – how they react to his changing. So we thought that to have a big, buggy costume would just look a bit ridiculous in the end.” I suggest that with Gregor’s movements, jumps and swings across the walls appearing so uncannily insect-esque, a costume hardly seems needed somehow. “We decided it was better for him to dress normally whilst everyone else reacts as if he has changed into something repulsive,” McGuinness agrees.

With regards to other decisions of what to use from the novel, McGuinness recalls, “From the English translation we came up with a storyboard of scenes that they wanted in the play, then wrote the scenes up and chopped and changed those quite a lot in rehearsals, playing around with the order they came in, so it became its own thing once we were in rehearsals… They amalgamated some moments in the book and added a couple of scenes that aren’t in the book. For example, there’s a scene where all the family have dinner together, which isn’t in the book but it seemed to be the only way we could get everyone to interact together in one moment.”

Vesturport are no strangers to staging physical theatre, and perhaps it’s therefore not surprising they chose to create their own reinvention of Kafka’s Metamorphosis, as opposed to staging Steven Berkoff’s adaptation. “Gisli, the Artistic Director, had represented Iceland as a gymnast when he was young, so the physical nature of the play, the circus style and aerial work, were key to his vision,” explains McGuinness. “David Farr, who was then the Artistic Director at The Lyric, wanted to work with Gisli and he suggested Metamorphosis, which Gisli liked the idea of, so they settled on it.” Vesturport’s artistic vision and set design are original, too. “Gisli’s initial ideas for how to stage the play was formed around his vision of the set – one room on top of another, with the top room flipped 90 degrees, so that the furniture appears to be  on the wall – was one of the primary ideas. The other artistic decisions were formed around that.”

Metamorphosis was originally published in 1915, and so it would have been understandable for Vesturport to have chosen to highlight different elements of the story, to make it accessible and enjoyable for a modern day audience. However, McGuinness insists, “Metamorphosis is a classic novel in that it’s open to your own interpretation, and anyone who has felt like a bit of an outsider at some point in their lives, or a bit misunderstood or ignored, can relate to it”. Recalling the first read-through, he tells me: “I was amazed to find it had been published in 1915. It’s a really old piece and yet it still feels quite modern.” For McGuinness and many others, Metamorphosis has a timeless quality. “What I find interesting when we talk to audiences is that a lot of teenagers in young audiences relate to it, because essentially, Metamorphosis depicts the story of a young guy, in his bedroom, going through changes whilst no-one understands him.” Likening the play to “an average teenager’s story”, McGuinness describes the “lack of communication” Gregor has with his family and others around him, as a process common to many teenagers.

In terms of style, McGuinness explains that, after lengthy discussions in rehearsals, Vesturport chose to use a slightly heightened Gothic style for their production. He recalls that there was a consensus amongst all involved to draw out and emphasise the humour of the play, too. “The story is quite abstract and there’s a lot about it which is quite comedic. We wanted to draw out that element of humour and sharpen the contrast with the darker elements, making the two quite extreme in opposition to one another.” Indeed, once you have laughed at Gregor’s father chasing and swatting him with a newspaper, you cannot help but feel a deep pain for him, as he is slowly dying, whilst his family, unable to understand him, continue to shut him out of their lives.

The basis of Kafka’s novel is an interior monologue of Gregor’s thoughts, and transforming these internal musings into a play that gives both dialogue and perspective to other characters was a challenge Vesturport had to overcome. McGuinness explains, “To stage the play, we had to turn these thoughts into a dialogue between the various characters. In turn, this meant we had to bring other characters to the fore a bit more than they originally were in Kafka’s novel and concentrate on the family dynamic, rather than Gregor’s mind.”

Music is inherent in this production, with a score written and produced by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, another element that makes their production differ from those preceding it. “Warren Ellis was often in rehearsals with us and from that he wrote a sound scape to play throughout most of the show, making it almost filmic, and that’s something which is not always done in theatre – a lot of productions use less music.” For McGuinness, the experimenting with styles and looking beyond the boundaries of Berkoff’s adaptation, also played an important role: “We played around with lots of different styles in rehearsals, from doing bits completely naturalistically to completely over the top.” The most emotional aspects of the play truly emerge in the final scenes with an accompanying song written by Musical Director Nick Cave. “The sun’s rising and everything feels quite different again. We found people were quite affected by that.” At this moment, Gregor is left hanging upside down from a red rope, as if underground, whilst his parents smile and push his sister on a swing in the garden above. “The audience are thrown so fast between the humour and the tragedy of the play. Like life, it’s not black and white.”

Vesturport’s Metamorphosis played at the Lyric Hammersmith in February and is now on tour, visiting international venues. For more information, visit http://vesturport.com/theater/metamorphosis-hamskiptin/.

Image credit: Vesturport

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