Review

There’s a beetle in my bed

Metamorphosis

BEHOLD, I am vermin! Gregor Samsa (William Harding) tries to make peace with the horror of an unexpected metamorphosis. Photograph by Jan Potgieter.

CROSS OUT ANY plans you may have for tomorrow, Sunday October 14. The achingly brief season of Steven Berkoff’s Metamorphosis under the direction of Alby Michaels ends on that day, and it is a production you will deeply regret if you miss it. Of the calibre of Molière’s The Miser directed by Sylvaine Strike a few years ago, this is an impeccable, brilliantly crafted work which offers an understanding of Franz Kafka’s classic tale that takes it to a new level.

When you read any of Kafka’s tales, you come away with two basic and fairly complicated things: the overwhelming sense of tragic catastrophe prompted by bureaucratic imperatives and an insane level of humour which paints the characters into caricatures that are both hilarious and terrifying, simultaneously. While Berkoff’s words which draw from the original tale encapsulate all those energies, it is the work of the cast and creative team in this production that reaches into the soul and fabric of the tale and converts it into something much bigger.

It’s rare to find a cast that collaborates with such an intimate understanding of how each member fits the work itself, as it is rare to find a cast that sings so magnificently together on paper as it does on stage. You get everything with Metaphormosis. With Craig Morris and Khutjo Green as the Samsa parents, and Ameera Patel as Greta, the daughter, sinister energies comingle with theatrical boldness. You will laugh and weep, sometimes in the same breath.

And the boy, Gregor, hard pressed by his family to earn a living as a travelling salesman, is interpreted by William Harding in overwhelmingly fine fetter.  He wakes up one morning having been transformed into a giant insect, something that his family find horrifying. They don’t recognise him, and are terrified and hostile to his every aspect.

Is this just a bit of absurdist narrative? Or is it a metaphor for the anti-Semitism that was to infuse Kafka’s world, many years later? Metamorphosis was written in 1912, almost a generation before anti-Semitism took the European world by its shirt fronts. Perhaps this story is about realising a part of your own identity that is no longer palatable to the people who raised you. Or maybe it is about the transformative effects of terminal illness. Either way, you are not compelled to hold slavishly to an interpretation. This work celebrates the quirkiness and muscularity of Kafka’s writing with immense dignity and levity, and the insights into cockroach talk, deep loneliness, the loss of a child, the issues of support, rejection and fear are handled with deftness.

The set, magicked into life by second year students mentored by Sarah Roberts, is simply astounding. Premised on the architecture of a simple chair, it switches and turns, gives an illusion of space and entrapment, of a room upstairs occupied by something frightened and frightening, as it embraces the unthinkable metamorphosis which converts a young sad man into a six legged, hard-backed creature, something that makes you scream when you see it.

This is the kind of show and the calibre of production that makes you think that National Theatre Live should look further afield and embrace South African theatre achievements under its wing. It needs a broader audience — and the ability to shout the praise of local talent on an international platform.

  • Metamorphosis is written by Steven Berkoff, adapted from the eponymous short story by Franz Kafka. Directed by Alby Michaels, it is performed by Khutjo Green, William Harding, Craig Morris and Ameera Patel with voices of Neels Clasen, Pieter Jacobs and Alby Michaels. It features design by Craig Morris (choreography), Oliver Hauser (lighting), Sarah Roberts mentoring second year FADA students (set), Jo Glanville mentoring second year FADA students (costumes), Kuba Silkiewicz (composer and sound design), Kathre Hulleey, Nicole Jollivet and Marco Esliva (animation), and performs at the UJ Arts Centre Theatre, Kingsway Campus, Auckland Park, until October 14. Call 011-559-4674.
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