Musings on Metamorphosis



January 9 to 13, 2012

Max Bell Theatre


With just two performances left of Lyric Hammersmith and Vesturport’s  highly unique production of the Franz Kafka classic, I felt  that rather than eating up valuable time researching and writing a lengthy review of Metamorposis, I would simply share some thoughts on the show. If you have already seen the production, I hope these musings add to your own ideas about what you experienced. And if you are booked to see the show in the next day or two, perhaps I can offer some information that might help you get in the mood for what you are about to experience. So… in no particular order


#1 This ain’t your parents Kafka

It’s been a long time since I read Metamorphosis and I certainly can’t claim to remember every little detail. But I do recall that the novella was written in first person – or first insect as the case may be. When Gregor Samsa wakes up one morning inexplicably transformed into a giant insect, it’s his voice that tells us the story and lets us in on his thoughts and feelings. Therefore I was surprised that this adaptation takes the opposite approach of telling the story through the eyes and feelings of the Samsa family instead.

On the one hand – it’s a very interesting approach that further illustrates the isolation and de-humanization that Kafka’s story attempts to address. By not giving the insect a true intimate voice, the playwright distances us from Gregor further, making the story even more chilling underneath the absurd humor.

On the other hand – because the Samsa family is so cold and unfeeling in a cartoonishly surreal way, the audiences’ engagement to the play is for the most part overly detached and cold as well. It wasn’t until the beautiful and heartbreaking final scene that I really connected with the pathos of the story and felt fully engaged with the production.


#2 The music

The original music by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis is nothing short of brilliant. In turns haunting, despondent and beautiful, the score of this production is as much a reason for its success as any other element.


#3 But really it’s all about the staging

By now you’ve probably heard me or someone else talk about the two-story stage and the physically demanding acrobatic wizardry of Gisli Örn Gardarsson as the insect. And yes, it is quite amazing. Was I expecting more? Perhaps I had read too much hype about the “jumping from one precarious point to another” and had envisioned a Cirque du Soleil type of performance – which this isn’t. But I kept waiting for the physicality to cease being difficult and interesting and instead be jaw dropping. It wasn’t – and while I was a little disappointed, there is no doubt that it is a stellar performance and a pretty darn excellent interpretation of how a giant insect would behave.


#4 The comedy

I can’t say I remember laughing reading Metamorphosis. Yes it is absurd….but funny? Not so much. But this production does play up the laughs in a darkly surreal type of way and it presents an interesting layer on the narrative. This production presents a ridiculous situation with preposterous characters that do make you laugh, albeit in odd and sometimes uncomfortable ways. Lurking very closely underneath this thin veneer however is the deeply uncomfortable metaphor that Kafka is trying to communicate. It’s a cleverly manipulative type of storytelling that teases you with the laughs and occasionally lets you peek behind the curtain to see the darkly disturbing meaning of the story.


#5 So what is it really about?

Well Kafka himself never really said so all I can do is offer my interpretation. I see two major metaphors highlighted in this production. First is the notion that Gregor, in working like a machine with no time for a life outside of work in order to become a success, support his family and benefit from his material status, became – metaphorically and literally – an insect. You can also say that his family, by mooching off him, only viewing him as their meal ticket and treating him like a well….like a worker beetle (no pun intended) with no purpose but to earn money,  helped to turn him literally into an insect as well.

The other metaphor at play is the notion of “otherness” and how that is treated in society. Whereas initially the Samsa family revered Gregor for his earning potential, once he transforms into an insect, an “other” they reject him and treat him like vermin. Like something to be exterminated. Something that can bring down their position in society and therefore must be done away with.


#6 Bottom Line

Truthfully, there are many allusions to Marxist, Fascist and Nazi-esque themes and ideas in the production. How much you want to take from the show depends on your desire to delve into its meaning.  Sure it’s possible to enjoy the show simply on its surface merits and with such a strong production that would be easy to do. But for me, as wonderfully produced as Metamorphosis is, I feel it does the story a disservice not to at least try to glean some meaning from what is otherwise an absolutely incongruous story.

Go, watch, think.

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