The Metamorphosis, Linbury Studio, Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, September 2011Posted on 21 September 2011
This is perhaps the most exceptional production in the Linbury Studio for 2011 — a retelling of Franz Kafka’s strange story Die Verwandlung.
Stated in the simplest terms, Kafka’s novella tells how a young man is transformed into an insect. It’s not clear what kind of insect exactly, but several commentators have referred to it as a beetle, and Nabokov even suggested a particular kind of dung beetle. When I first read the story I found it puzzling, as many in the audience may, but read the original and you will see that this creation by Arthur Pita is a remarkable achievement, aided by music composed and played by Frank Moon. Kafka referred to his work as an ‘ausnehmend ekelhafte Geschichte‘ (an exceptionally disgusting story), and so it is, but it plays at deep levels, reflecting the dehumanisation inherent in a rigid routine of work necessitated by the demand to support a family.
This is brilliantly represented on stage at the beginning as we see the protagonist, Gregor Samsa, travel to and from work. Every day on the way in he passes the same woman who sells coffee and rolls, and on the way back beer and stronger drinks. Every day he buys a coffee in one direction and a slivovitz in the other. His time is not his own, but his money supports his father, mother and younger sister Grete. He’s a caring, supporting son, well illustrated on the second day when he brings home a pair of ballet slippers for his sister. She’s thrilled. Every day, Gregor takes an apple to work, leaving before the family is up and about, and when he returns they settle down to a simple meal. He puts his briefcase away and goes to bed. The movements are all carefully stylised — this is what passes for life. On the third morning the music is more ominous, and on the fourth, Gregor doesn’t rise. The alarm goes off, but Gregor has turned into an insect.
What happens after that is really the heart of the story. Edward Watson is quite incredible as Gregor — it’s a phenomenal performance. Laura Day is brilliant as his kid sister, who really cares about him and does what she can, and Nina Goldman and Anton Skrzypiciel are entirely convincing as the parents, the elegant but neurotic mother and the slothful father who finds he must go out to work again when Gregor turns into a disgusting parasite. The family take in lodgers, three young men who start to enjoy themselves, dancing with the family to Yiddish music. But then Gregor breaks out from his room, and the terrified lodgers leave. It’s the beginning of the end.
Kafka was never entirely happy with the ending of his story, but it is cleverly portrayed here. In fact the whole experience is very cleverly done, and Arthur Pita has brought in the many aspects of story including the sexual overtones between father and daughter, mother and son. The whole cast is wonderful, with Bettina Carpi as the maid and the drinks vendor at the station in Prague, calling out her wares in Czech, along with Greig Cook and Joe Walkling playing supporting parts. The black spiders crawling into Gregor’s room to torment him were very effective, and it is remarkable that Edward Watson can do this six days running, with two performances on Saturday.
See it while you can. There are still tickets for Saturday evening, September 24 — for details click here.
I found it spellbinding, gripping and deeply dark. A near-perfect adaptation of the original story by Kafka. Maybe not one for the whole family.