Metamorphosis. Adapted by Steven Berkoff from the novella by Franz Kafka. Directed by Adam Broinowski. The Street Theatre. To Aug 31. Bookings thestreet.org.au or (02) 62471223.
It's a joy to see director Adam Broinowski and the team at The Street Theatre take on Franz Kafka's Metamorphosis. Steven Berkoff's adaptation is pithy and sardonic as it sets up what happens to Gregor Samsa (Dylan Van Den Berg) after he wakes up one morning to find he has turned into some kind of huge multilegged insect.
Gregor is, as it turns out, pretty much the sole financial support of his family, rising early to catch the train to work as a travelling salesman. He would like to support his sister Greta (Stefanie Lukas) in further violin studies. But in his new condition he's barely able to get to the door of the bedroom and he can't communicate. He can understand his family but they only hear noise.
Mr Samsa (Christopher Samuel Carroll) no longer works and there seem to be debts to the firm that employs Gregor. He and Mrs Samsa (Ruth Pieloor) are very careful not to offend the boss when he descends in the form of a spectacular mask from the ceiling to see what is preventing Gregor from going to work. Only Greta seems to have an initial degree of real sympathy for her brother.
The time and the place feel early 20th century and European. There's urban desperation in the air and a scent of old silent films like The Cabinet of Dr Caligari and Metropolis in Imogen Keen's set, slightly industrial costume designs and whitened butoh style makeup.
Gregor's bedroom is a box on wheels open on three sides with a shelf for a bed, a huge keyhole in the fourth wall and various ledges that enable Van Den Berg's convoluted and increasingly sad movements as the decaying insect. Disturbingly that also involves being on the ceiling. His humanity ebbs while his family look for ways to survive the loss of their breadwinner, including taking in lodgers who will hopefully be able to overlook the "pet" that is scuttling around behind the closed door to one of the bedrooms.
The performances are strong, stylish and clear. Carroll's Mr Samsa is weak and bullying, occasionally frightening in his violence and generally unsympathetic to anything his son might be going through. Pieloor's Mrs Samsa is upset by the changes to her son but still goes through the motions of motherhood even though she is too afraid to deal with Gregor directly.
As Greta, Lekkas clearly shows the shift to pragmatism that Gregor's relatives feel obliged to choose. This Greta does what she can to help at first but by the end she too has discarded her brother and of necessity moved on. Gregor's dreams for her music remain his dreams, not hers.
And as for Gregor, Van Den Berg makes of him a moving and tragic figure. Only the audience can hear his increasingly desperate thoughts as he writhes and disintegrates.
The performances emphasise the sense is that these people have very little that they can fall back on except their own labour. As a result their outlook is limited. Father has to go back to work. Mother might have to keep house for more lodgers. They've saved a little money but they'll have to downsize. Or perhaps Greta will marry well. Gregor might be forgotten but there's a wonderfully ironic optimism in this assured and adroit production at the end.
Not to be missed.