Shadows of Violins Morphing Into Cockroaches: Metamorphosis Review

A stunning technical and physical achievement that dwells in its own morbidity, Eddie Atkinson reviews Metamorphosis at York Theatre Royal 4 stars.

(Image: Tristram Kenton)

Frantic Assembly’s Metamorphosis (which came to York Theatre Royal on a national tour), displays incredible prowess in physical theatre and physicality in its own right, with feats of strength and contortion operating alongside powerful performance to bring Franz Kafka’s tale to life.

The set, sound, and lighting were a tour de force.

A particular highlight was a solid ceiling resting on canvas walls that allowed the setting of the protagonist Gregor’s room to bend and warp uneasily alongside the eeriness of the plot. 

There were further displays of technical prowess and artistry in the ambitious lighting, most notably in a pre-transformation moment where the shadows of violins flirted with morphing into the iconic image of the cockroach. Then, the sound design, with certain lines, memories and screams projected from speakers around the dress circle, occasionally drifting unsettlingly in and out of sync with the actor’s mouths.

The production deviated heavily from its source material, perhaps a necessity given the original’s compact nature; the opening of Kafka’s short story not coming in the action of the play until the end of the first act. 

For the most part this worked very well, allowing more time to explore the plight of Greta, Gregor’s sister, and thereby adding a new angle to Kafka’s criticism of the world of capitalist work by lingering further on its effects on those outside the workplace.

However, in occasional moments, the production became almost too engrossed in its own morbidity, sometimes verging on melodrama.

Kafka’s already macabre piece was furnished with a slightly uncomfortable incestuous element not present in the original, as well as an adoption related origin story for Gregor which raised interesting questions around systems of care, but this felt like it had strayed too far from the text to not be explored in greater detail than it was. 

In all, this production was a powerful technical, physical and artistic achievement that perhaps suffered slightly from the succinctness of its source material. 

The creative risk-taking that this limitation forced occasionally missed its mark, but ultimately made for a visually stunning and thought-provoking production.

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