Tuesday, March 04, 2008


Metamorphosis, Birmingham Repertory Theatre, Birmingham, Wednesday February 27 2008, 7.30pm.

The combination of Franz Kafka and Nick Cave lured your cautious correspondent back into the theatre for the first time in several months. Billed as a six-legged nightmare, the story has been adapted and directed by David Farr and Gisli Orn Garderson to be performed by the Reykjavik-based ensemble Vesturport with an original score provided by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis. With the pedigrees and reputations of those involved we had every right to expect dark material dashingly delivered, and we were not to be disappointed.

Many of you will be aware of the central story concept, of a young man who awakes one morning to find himself turned into an insect to the consternation of his family for whom he is their breadwinner, and who only hear an ear-piercing shriek when he tries to communicate with them. There are many semi-autobiographical elements involved in the story (Kafka turned his back on a conventional career to concentrate on his writing, outstayed his welcome in the family homestead until the age of 31, and had an unusually strong bond with his sister) but perhaps the timeless genius of the piece lies in the way the writer has extracted universal themes from these elements, primarily the way in which both micro- and macro-societies ruthlessly isolate the different and unconventional.

The resulting production is as odd and slightly depressing as the material dictates, but remains a triumph on many levels. The Cave/Ellis score is subtly integral to the mood of the piece, while the magnificent set design (including a gravity-defying bedroom) and astonishing physical theatre make apparent light of the numerous logistic difficulties of translating such surreal material to the stage. Bjorn Thors deserves particular praise for his acrobatic performance as Gregor, particularly moving in the sequence where he appears never-more human than at the point of final rejection by his family. Striking, memorable, theatre, then, worth catching as the run moves on to Plymouth then London (Lyric Hammersmith, March 25 - April 5).

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