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A CurtainUp London London Review

Vestuport's Metamorphosis Make a Brief Return Visit to to the Lyric Hammerstein Prior to a UK and International Tour
Bjõrn Thors as Gregor Simon Kane.
(Photo: Simon Kane)
Co-directed and adapted by Gísli Õrn Gardasson and David Farr, this revisited production boasts an almost entirely new cast with similar mix of Icelandic and British creative talent as the original. Björn Thors takes on the acrobatic role of the recently-turned insect Gregor Samsa and with breathtaking physicality, clambers lithely around the vertically-angled room. He also portrays the six foot cockroach with paradoxical but affecting humanity. Formerly the overworked, exploited cornerstone of the family's financial survival, his plight is all the more affecting because his grotesque new shape is only portrayed by the disgust of his family.

The rest of the cast, on the other hand, help to emphasise more the political significance than the personal aspect of this tale of parasitic alienation.  They are the representatives of power or authority and their cruelty to Gregor, although inadvertent and to some extent explicable, hints at the imminent Nazi occupation. Of course, most of Kafka's own family was to die in concentration camps.  In particular, Herr Fischer (Jonathan McGuinness) is a paragon of a healthy human specimen, the antonym to Gregor's anguished imperfection. 

Moreover, the fantastic score by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis provides understated but haunting and elegiac music. With sheer visual eloquence, this melodic production has lost none of its mesmeric power and beauty

Our review of the previous production is reposted after the current production notes.
Written by Franz Kafka adapted and directed by David Farr and Gisli Õrn Gardasson

With: Tom Mannion, Elva Osk Olafsdottir, Unnur Osp Stefansdottir Bjorn Thors, Jonathan McGuinness
Design: Börkur Jónsson
Lighting: Hartley TA Kemp
Musical Composition by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis
Sound Design: Nick Manning
Running time: One hour 30 minutes with no interval
A Lyric Hammersmith and Vesturport Production
Box Office: 0870 050 0511
Booking to 2nd February 2008
Then touring as below
5th to 9th February 2008 Liverpool Playhouse
13th to 16th February The Lowry, Salford
25th February to 1st March 2008 Birmingham Rep
3rd to 8th March 2008 Northern Stage, Newcastle
10th to 15th March Theatre Royal Plymouth
And then internationally to Tasmania, South Korea and Sydney, Australia
Reviewed by Charlotte Loveridge on 14th January 2008 performance at the Lyric Theatre, King Street, Hammersmith, London W6 (Tube: Hammersmith)

—original review
I do not want to see THAT in my living room ever again.
---- Herman on his son Gregor
The Lyric Hammersmith’’s production of Metamorphosis, an adaptation of Kafka’s dark, surreal short story, boasts David Farr’s characteristic originality combined with captivating aesthetics and moving human drama. Farr’s co-director and co-adaptor is the Gisli Õrn Gardasson , the creator of Iceland’s Vesturport theatre company, adds his impressionistic, physical style to the collaboration. As a result, we have a production unusually strong in both movement and meaning.

Billed as "a six-legged nightmare", Kafka’s story follows the transformation of Gregor Samsa (Gisli Õrn Gardasson) from an ordinary salesman into a giant, hideous insect. His family, who were accustomed to rely on Gregor’s salary to survive, now have to tolerate his changed presence, housing and feeding a creature they find utterly repulsive. Gregor’s fragile mother (Kelly Hunter) who was prone to hyperventilating in the routine course of a normal day, reacts with a horror which overshadows any vestige of maternal instinct. His father (Ingvar E Sigurdsson) abruptly descends into anger and violence towards his son. Their daughter Grete (Nina Dõgg Filippusdõttir) tries to relate to her brother but gives up when feeding him starts to be a bore and he even hinders her chances of marriage proposals. As Gregor’s condition deteriorates, his family grow to hate their erstwhile breadwinner and model son/brother.

Gardasson’s performance is both central and stunning. The decision to portray the person-turned-insect by nothing other than movement and acting abilities was potentially risky, but pulled off superbly. Apart from some agile clambering across the walls and ceiling, Gregor is still a human to the audience’s eyes. His family, however, recoil and retch at his presence. When he speaks, we hear articulate despair and a desperate attempt to communicate, but his family cover their ears at what is to them an incomprehensible, repugnant noise. By avoiding any elaborate costume or make-up, the audience see Gregor’s basic humanity, and his suffering by alienation, cruelty and complete lack of compassion is truly moving. Gardasson is amazing, evincing a sympathetic performance in a role which is also extremely physically demanding. Vesturport’s trademark acrobatics and trapeze skills are here subdued and restrained into this one performance. Likewise, David Farr withholds his tendency to explore contemporary politics or present chimerical visual gestures. In this way, nothing compromises the domestic reality of the family and although personally a fan of the co-directors’ more flamboyant streaks, I must admit that the production is all the more effective for being thus controlled.

Börkur Jónsson who has designed sets for Vesturport in the past, here again has creates a scene which is thoroughly suited to the play’s style and performances. The respectable, if slightly run-down, apartment exudes a normal home atmosphere. However, the coup is Gregor’s upstairs bedroom, which is presented vertically, so the floor is upright and the walls have torn pockets which double as handles. In fact Gregor hardly ever stands still but is always hopping, perching or hanging.

Another attraction of this production is the original music by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis. This is evocative, quietly elegiac and very beautiful, conveying the prolonged winter, which only turns to Spring over Gregor’s death.

It is remarkable that this story of self-loathing and inhumanity can be so moving. This is artistic collaboration at its best, with an incredible collective of creative strengths: from Kafka’s murky brilliance, invested with David Farr’s sense of in meaning and emotion in live theatre, illuminated by Gisli Örn Gardasson’s breath-taking acting and movement, as well as the superlative cast, design and music.

Written by Franz Kafka adapted by David Farr and Gisli Õrn Gardasson
Directed by David Farr

With: Gisli Õrn Gardasson, Nina Dögg Filippusdöttir, Ingvar E Sigurdsson, Kelly Hunter, Jonathan McGuinness
Design: Börkur Jónsson
Lighting: Hartley TA Kemp
Musical Composition by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis
Sound Design: Nick Manning
Running time: One hour 30 minutes with no interval
Created by Kneehigh Theatre
A Lyric Hammersmith and Vesturport Production
Box Office: 0870 050 0511
Booking to 28th October 2006
Reviewed by Charlotte Loveridge on 4th October 2006 performance at the Lyric Theatre, King Street, Hammersmith, London W6 (Tube: Hammersmith)
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©Copyright 2006, Elyse Sommer.
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