Gisli Orn Gardarsson spends a lot of his time in Metamorphosis just hanging around. Off the ceiling. Clearly no stranger to TRX, Gardarsson plays Gregor Samsa, the unfortunate travelling salesman who finds himself slowly transforming into an insect.
It’s a stunning central performance; Gregor’s plight made all the more poignant because while his family see only a scuttling, chirruping monster, the audience see a handsome, earnest young man struggling to make his plaintive tones understood.
There are strong performances all round in this striking adaptation of Franz Kafka’s tale about family and disconnection. Gregor’s disciplinarian dad (Ingvar E Sigurdsson) and hypochondriac mother (Kelly Hunter) vacillate between fear, horror and disgust, while sister Greta (Nina Dogg Filippusdottir) undergoes her own terrifying transformation, culminating in a shocking scene in which she viciously turns on the brother she’s cared for.
Despite such dark material, there are flashes of humour. Compared to the other cast members, Jonathan McGuinness doesn’t have much time on stage, but his larger-than-life Herr Fischer certainly makes an impression on the audience.
Clever use of lighting plays not only with our perceptions but also with the idea of what’s hidden and revealed. And while this audience member found Nick Cave and Warren Ellis’s music occasionally intrusive, there’s no denying its powerful contribution to the final scene.
When I first read this story years ago as a student of German, I was glad to get to the end. Reading in a foreign language is always something of a chore (no matter how easy Gardarsson, Sigurdsson and Filippusdottir might make it look!).
Tonight, too, I felt a sense of relief as Gregor’s lifeless body slowly spun centre stage. Wasted away as much from lack of love as lack of food, his death seemed a blessed release from the clutches of his family – far more bloodsucking and monstrous than the son they sought to hide away.