Metamorphosis. By Steve Berkoff, adapted from the novel by Franz Kafka. Directed by Adam Broinowski. The Street Theatre. August 16-31, various times and dates. thestreet.org.au.
It's one of the most striking first lines in literature: "As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect."
Thus begins Franz Kafka's 1915 novella The Metamorphosis.
Actor and writer Steven Berkoff adapted the work for the stage in 1969.
His version was used as the libretto for Brian Howard's 1983 opera, also titled Metamorphosis.
The Street Theatre is presenting Berkoff's adaptation of Metamorphosis in its 50th anniversary year. The production is being directed by Adam Broinowski.
Canberra actor Dylan Van Den Berg is playing the unfortunate Gregor.
"It's really exciting to get my teeth into."
He says before the young man's transformation, he has been working as a commercial traveller to support his parents (Christopher Samuel Carroll and Ruth Piellor) and sister Gretel (Stefanie Lekkas).
"They expect him to shoulder all their needs."
Gregor has no voice in the matter and has accepted his role as sole provider.
"He's not in a position to have ambition or to think for himself."
After his change, though, he is confined to the house and the burden has shifted.
Presenting a giant insect - or vermin, or cockroach, as the imprecise German phrase ungeheures Ungeziefer has been variously translated - on stage is an obvious challenge from both a performance and production point of view.
Van Den Berg says Berkoff's script allows for different interpretations. In this production, the actor is not heavily made up or costumed to create his new state: the transformation and its effects are portrayed more symbolically.
"We're using physicality, light and sound and a particular space - there's a cage on stage."
Gregor retains a shred of humanity, Van Den Berg says, and is contrasted with his selfish, opportunistic family.
In his new state, "He might have become more human than the people around him."
The 26-year-old came to Canberra from Tasmania to study drama at the ANU.
He's worked with Jigsaw Theatre Company and has also written Blue: A Memory Play and Milk, which was selected for development this year in the Street's First Seen program.
Broinowski - tackling his first Berkoff play - says Metamorphosis was "always going to be an interesting creative challenge, particularly in the age of CGI and immersive screens".
What they have to do, he says, is to present it in a way that's theatrical, "that works with allegory and metaphor and the visual and human side" through the way it is designed, staged, scored and acted.
He describes the story as "seriogrotesque" though leavened with slapstick and finds the idea of Gregor's new state being an insect, or a "cockroach" as he refers to it, intriguing given its associations such as being as a household pest.
Gregor's family, he says, have to take in lodgers, and the retired father has to go back to work, not only to feed themselves but to keep up appearances as a comfortable middle-class family.
"There was no safety net."
Broinowski, a theatre maker, writer and academic, directed the premiere of Emma Gibson's radio-play adaptation of the Randolph Stow novel Tourmaline at the Street in 2018. He also spent five years in Japan working in movement theatre. A feature documentary (Hell Bento!), solo and group shows, and touring with Australian companies to Europe, South America, Asia and the US.