Metamorphosis @ Lyric Hammersmith, London

cast list
Bjorn Thore
Unnur Osp Stefansdottir
Elva Osk Olafsdottir
Tom Mannion
Jonathan McGuinnes

directed by
David Farr and Gisli Orn Gardarsson
David Farr and Gisli Orn Gardarssons inventive and visual production of Franz Kafkas Metamorphosis was a hit at the Lyric when it was staged in 2006. Now its back there with a new cast for a brief three week stint, in preparation for an international tour.

The production remains, in essence, the same, if a little tighter. Gregor Samsa wakes up one morning to discover he has turned into an insect, a hideous creature from whom his family his routine loving parents and sparky younger sister recoil in horror.

The central device, that the actor playing Gregor looks perfectly normal, with his otherness conveyed through the way that he moves, leaping around the stage with acrobatic ease, and in the way his family members react to him, remains a strong one. Though the audience can understand everything Gregor is saying, his family flinch when he speaks they hear only intelligible noise. Again this is a simple idea, but a very effective one.

Borkur Jonssons set remains a delight. Split over two floors, it fills the Lyric stage. Gregors room is particularly well-realised, a perspective-defying space with the walls and ceiling switched around. Within this room Gregor leaps and spins and dangles from the furniture. Its a tremendously demanding role, with half the dialogue delivered while the actor is either hanging upside down from the ceiling or precariously perched on the stairs, but Bjorn Thore taking over from the shows adaptor and director, Gisli Orn Gardarsson, who played the part in the original production handles it well. Adept at the acrobatics, he also successfully conveys Gregors growing sense of alarm and alienation.

The rest of the new cast do an equally good job, particularly Unnur Osp Stefansdottir as Gregors increasingly tough-shelled sister. Tom Mannion is rather too broadly comic as Gregors father, but this is only in comparison to the intensity that Ingvar E Sigurdsson brought to the role in the original staging.

This is still not a perfect production, and there are those who will balk at the chops and changes Farr and Gardarsson have made to the book. But when it works, as in the opening sequence of the Samsas going about their day to day lives, performed wordlessly to the music of Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, or in the poignant yet oddly beautiful closing scene after Gregor has met his grim, if inevitable fate, well, then its quite magical.

This is an accessible and exciting production, more than worthy of a second look, or indeed, a first, if you missed the original production. I certainly found it worth a another visit, and found myself better able to appreciate it second time around.

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