Open Theatre Society made the most of the title and central theme of their latest production.
Metamorphosis is a play by Steven Berkoff based on the novella of the same name by Franz Kafka. It tells the story of salesman Gregor Samsa, who wakes up one morning to discover he has transformed into some sort of gigantic insect. But in this production, co-directed by Gemma Wisdom and Zosh Zkowronska, Gregor’s surreal change wasn’t the only metamorphosis at play. The predominantly male rotation of characters in Kafka’s story were protrayed here by an all-female cast, as well as (the programme told us) cockney accents being delivered by mostly northern actors. It is to the credit of all the performers that these transitions were never distracting. In fact, it was the dedication of the eight-person cast which saved this piece from its various pitfalls. Each member of the company executed thier roles with impeccable comic timing, from the grotesque lodgers of the Samsa household to Gregor’s frightened and disgusted family: his shrill mother (Aimee Leigh-Fosher) slovenly father (Dan Newby) and abrasively common yet good-hearted sister Greta (Sophie Strickland-Clark).
But special mention must go to Edie Marsh as Gregor, so convincing as a man in the form of an insect that it was easy to forget she was also a woman in the form of a man. Nothing more than a few smudges of dark make-up to suggest bulging eyes and a pillow stuffed under a jacket to signify deformity showed that Gregor had indeed undergone any sort of metamorphosis. The rest came from Marsh’s performance, as she scuttled around in a fascinating structure upstage which began as Gregor’s room and quickly became his cage. Marsh’s bodily performance is just one example of the physical theatre promised by the show’s promotional material. These scenes are very arresting when they do occur, such as the moment when the members of Gregor’s family tangle themselves together on the floor to form a beetle-like shape echoing the one Gregor has assumed, however they are a little few-and-far-beween.
Elsewhere, the play itself is a fairly static affair, both in action and character development. Gregor himself does become increasingly feral the longer he remains inhuman in shape, but the surrounding characters barely move beyond their initial stances of mingled revulsion and pity over Gregor’s condition. As with many Open Theatre productions, a few devices seem to have been included for the sake of avoiding naturalism, and as such can feel a little like A-Level drama all over again. At it’s best however, this play is an interesting set of ideas, rendered admirably by a commited cast.