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Modern take on nightmare classic makes the skin crawl

Metamorphosis. Photo by Tristram Kenton.

Metamorphosis at the Belgrade Theatre until 27 January.

Review by Annette Kinsella.


What would you do if you were confronted by an enormous beetle? Thankfully I have never had to face this particular situation. But I’m guessing I would scream/ run / reach for a giant can of insect spray. Or a combination of all three.


This terrifying scenario is the subject of Metamorphosis, currently playing at the Belgrade Theatre. Taking inspiration from the 1915 classic by Franz Kafka, the latest production by Frantic Assembly has been reimagined by Manchester poet du jour Lemn Sissay.


Kafka’s original work, which sees salesman Gregor Samsa transformed overnight into an insect, is widely acknowledged as an allegory for the treatment of mental illness or a discourse on how capitalism disenfranchises the human condition. Gregor has worth only when he can work and consume, but his debilitating transformation causes his family to attack him, society to shun him and leads to his murder. The ultimate can of insect spray, if you like.

Production by Frantic Assembly. Photo by Tristram Kenton.


Frantic Assembly’s production adds a backstory to Gregor’s life missing from the original, adding flesh to the bones of what  motivates humans to alienate others. Gregor, played by an ashen-faced Felipe Pachecho, is revealed to be the adopted child of his parents, who see him as a cash cow when he is productive and a curse when incapacitated. Family relationships are atrophied even further – Gregor’s sister Greta (Hannah Sinclair Robinson) is the product of an affair, the sister-brother relationship is perverse and incestuous. So far, so Brookside. Forgive the dated reference – I am a child of the 80s*.

Thought provoking. Photo by Tristram Kenton.


The modern capitalist society comes in for a healthy dose of criticism – Gregor’s isolation is seen to be the result of an inhumane commercial industry, which prioritises work over relationships. After Gregor’s metamorphosis, Gregor’s father, played with furious intensity by Troy Glasgow, is forced to take his place, his jerky automated movements exactly mimicking Gregor’s insect scuttles. The claustrophobic set, which is filled with impossible corners and angles, adds to the sense of incarceration and panic.

Metamorphosis at the Belgrade until 27 Jan. Photo by Tristram Kenton.


There is no doubt this production shows flashes of brilliance, adding a fresh perspective to an established classic, while Sissay’s script is equally illuminating, peppering the dialogue with insect metaphors which go so far as to make the flesh crawl. But for me the devil was in the detail – there was just too much of it. I wanted to love this lengthy adaptation but it never quite got there. It did, however, make me feel uncomfortable and question the purpose of modern existence, so I think Kafka's legacy is well upheld.


Sorry not sorry. Brookside remains the finest soap ever produced in the UK. FACT


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