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A CurtainUp London Review
Billed as "a six-legged nightmare", Kafkas 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 Gregors salary to survive, now have to tolerate his changed presence, housing and feeding a creature they find utterly repulsive. Gregors 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 Gregors condition deteriorates, his family grow to hate their erstwhile breadwinner and model son/brother.
Gardassons 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 audiences 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 Gregors 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. Vesturports 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 plays style and performances. The respectable, if slightly run-down, apartment exudes a normal home atmosphere. However, the coup is Gregors 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 Gregors 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 Kafkas murky brilliance, invested with David Farrs sense of in meaning and emotion in live theatre, illuminated by Gisli Örn Gardassons breath-taking acting and movement, as well as the superlative cast, design and music.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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