Twisted and hypnotic, Frantic Assembly’s take on Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis is hauntingly captivating from start to finish. At the Playhouse Theatre, Liverpool, the cast of five tell the tale of salesman Gregor Samsa’s fall from grace through remarkable physical theatre and intricate staging. This new stage adaptation adapted by Lemn Sissay and directed by Scott Graham is an impressive feat, if at times let down by the scripting.
A suspended bedroom shapes the majority of the set. With swathes of material forming the walls, it seemingly billows and swells with the poetic narrative, moving slowly as the performance escalates. This distorted reality cleverly mirrors the downfall of Gregor (Felipe Pacheco) as he spirals under the pressure of being a tradesman alongside his familial duties. The sheer capacity of the set underlines Gregor’s sense of drowning as he clambers around every aspect of the room.
Appearing as if out of thin air, the performers are effortless as Gregor’s family members (Mother, Louise Mai Newberry; Father, Troy Glasgow; Sister/Grete, Hannah Sinclair Robinson). They blend from walls, hang from ceilings, and vanish through props onstage as the audience watch spellbound. The compelling performances draw you into a world unfurling rapidly as Gregor’s decline accelerates alongside his family’s turmoil. Impeccably timed lighting carries the plot forwards and even as it stagnates, tension is maintained through clever direction and emphasis.
The choreography of the performance is almost unbelievable. Mesmerising physicality commands the pace of scenes, creating a sort of fever-dream as the performers swirl around each other. It is fantastical and brilliantly directed; in places, a welcome distraction from wordy monologues that feel as though they could be shortened. The simplicity and ease of the performers making use of every corner of the stage is the true showstopper here. Fluid and surreal, the actions capture emotions and mould narratives establishing the complexity of Kafka’s story.
Leaving a little more to be desired is the script. For the most part, dialogue is wound closely to movement. Repetition used is clever and subtle enough to work well partnered with the physicality. But, extensive monologues sometimes lose their way and slow the pace of the performance to its detriment. With Metamorphosis already leaving room for interpretation, perhaps less meandering dialogue would help with following the story.
Nevertheless, Frantic Assembly certainly know how to put on a show. The physical theatre stuns and the staging is a visual masterpiece. With a talented cast, Metamorphosis is a clever, visceral retelling of Kafka’s classic.
Metamorphosis will be performed at the Playhouse Theatre, Liverpool until 21 October, before embarking on tour.
Words by Hannah Goldswain.
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