Frantic Assembly’s Metamorphosis Review

Curve Theatre Leicester – until 23rd September 2023

Reviewed by Amarjeet Singh


One of Kafka’s best-known works, Metamorphosis tells the story of salesman Gregor Samsa, who wakes one morning to find himself inexplicably transformed into a huge insect. Following his transformation, he is unable to work or reassimilate into normal life and thus he begins to contemplate his existence. Poet Lemn Sissay has teamed up with Frantic Assembly to bring the novella to the stage with the focus being on an economic system which forces people on to a conveyor belt of capitalism and discourages all forms of individuality and creativity.

Gregor Samsa is a salesman providing for his mother and sister and his unemployed, debt ridden, controlling father. The opening scene portrayed brilliantly the monotony of the daily grind as Samsa’s sole dialogue is a repetition of a line, and he repeats a pattern of movement coming through a door and up steps to represent his working day. This soon becomes exhausting, both for him and unfortunately for the viewer.

At times during the first half, I struggled to connect to the play, there appeared to be a battle between lyric and movement, an either or. Static or frenetic. I honestly wasn’t sure what was happening in parts. Having read Kafka, I had the context, but this was too fragmented and disjointed to decipher. The second half was more cohesive, but unfortunately some people didn’t return.

The set, designed by Jon Bauser was deceptively minimalistic. A box room, claustrophobic, perfectly portraying Samsa’s prison. Flash fashion magazines were projected on to the grungy white walls during the opening scenes. The ceiling light had a role of its own, swing, pivot, flashlight. A bed which swallowed, masked and tilted. The sinister slow move of the room made for a very disconcerting feel indeed. My only criticism would be that the audience on the peripheral seats would miss what was happening within the room as its quite boxed in.

Simisola Majekodunmi made magic with shadow work, casting images of insects on the wall, in lieu of a full insect costume and utilising harsh lights to disorientate and blind. Sudden blackouts also added to Samsa’s ability to scuttle and leap in the blink of an eye across his room. Again my only criticism would be that the audience on the peripheral seats would miss some of the insect shadow work as it could only be seen if you had front facing seats.

Felipe Pacheco as George Samsa was spectacular. He showed incredible physical strength and athletic flexibility and demonstrated Samsa’s metamorphosis as magnificently as the production enabled him to. There is a wonderful scene where he is caught up in several chairs, insect like, very clever work indeed. Louise May Newberry and Troy Glasgow were fabulous as the parents and Joe Layton played his multiple roles with gusto. Hannah Sinclair Robinson was arresting as Greta and brought some great tension to the stage, especially when there was a slight sinister incestuous moment.

The production is lyrically beautiful and when there is movement its mesmerising, but unfortunately, Metamorphosis misses the mark. It lacks direction and progressive tension and ultimately, you’re left feeling this is a rather lengthy adaptation which has only focused on some of Kafka’s genius ideas.

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