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Metamorphosis’ first form was as a novella by Franz Kafka, published in 1915. Through translation, novelisation, dramatisation, and even a video game, his text has continued to be redefined time and time again. Whatever his initial inspiration (still a bone of contention for some) one clear theme resonates through the piece: acceptance of change, and the lack thereof.
The story of Metamorphosis is that of Gregor Samsa, caught in a thankless job to provide for his family after the collapse of their business. The play begins as Gregor wakes to find himself transformed into some kind of monstrous creature; hideous and unintelligible to his family and his boss, he becomes progressively more alienated from the world he knew.
In 2019, Collide Theatre produced a new production of Kafka’s absurdist fiction, which was captured in 360˚ film. They have now made the performance available to stream online via the Cockpit Theatre and LIVR, creating an innovative virtual reality viewing opportunity. Whilst the action is always within 180 degrees of the camera (the other 180 degrees simply allowing me to see the rest of the audience) it is the closest I have come to feeling the presence of a live audience in a very long time – even the coughs I hear from someone behind me cause me to tense up briefly, before I remember that they are indeed captured in time. I have always loved watching the audience as a performance takes place, and you could indeed use this recording to do just that, watching their reactions as the play unfolds on stage. But like being a live audience member, there are also the distractions from the fidgeting hands and whispered conversations.
Intricately directed and adapted by Emily Louizou, this new version of Metamorphosis is told through a chorus of five performers: Katharine Hardman, Joseph Hardy, Katy Ellis, Jodie May, and Manuela Albrecht. They begin speaking perfectly in time with one another as Gregor dissects what is happening. The text is brilliantly clear and every word defined — a sign that the cast has taken great pains to finetune their cohesion as an ensemble. Initially developing each character out of their amorphous form, they remain as a collective to voice Gregor. In one early scene, they break synchronicity to speak at odds with one another, making it impossible for us to hear what is being said, perfectly representing the family’s inability to understand Gregor’s speech.
They begin to set the pace and mood of the scene through steady choreographed movement, which is expanded on throughout the play in scene-ettes of physical theatre, staged by Ioli Filippakopoulou. Their bodies flex and twist across the stage, duplicating and splitting to show the narrative in simple, but absurd phrases. Motions like sweeping the floor or pouring a drink, are given huge importance. Props are bizarrely pulled from the fridge and the floor is miraculously ripped up in strips as Gregor’s world becomes more and more isolated and desolate.
This production perfectly captures the spirit of Kafka’s text, making great use of the absurdist elements of its structure to influence the design of the set and movement. Whilst at times its lack of boundaries and set cause the specifics of the scenes to blur, they manage to maintain clearly defined moments to reinforce the twisted disregard that this family displays to one of its own.
Metamorphosis is streaming online until 21 February 2021. For more information and to book tickets, visit The Cockpit online.