Sinister music and low lighting set the mood as the audience take their seats for this evening’s performance, and the feeling of unease is palpable. As a staple feature of GCSE and A Level Drama specifications, it’s no surprise that there are several school groups who have made the journey to see Frantic Assembly’s latest offering, and their excitement only adds to the buzz as the lights go down.
Based on Franz Kafka’s 1915 novella, The Metamorphosis, this stage adaptation, devised by Lemm Sissay and directed by Scott Graham, is the story of Gregor Samsa, a fabric salesman living with his parents, who wakes up one day to find he has been transformed into a giant insect. It is a commentary on the unrelenting pressure of life in the sales industry, and the brutal effect of rejection and alienation.
Felipe Pacheco’s physicality is mesmerising as he takes on the role of Gregor Samsa, powerfully capturing the desperation of a man unable to escape the monotony of every day working life, with the mounting pressure of providing for his family weighing on his shoulders. With no costume to reflect his transformation into insect, it is represented in every part of his body as he writhes around the stage, using blackouts to move and reappear almost instantly elsewhere, sometimes appearing to stick to the ceiling of the set, sometimes balanced precariously on a piece of furniture. Pacheco almost never leaves the stage, and is rarely still, and his stamina and energy is hugely impressive, as are his almost acrobatic movement skills.
Gregor’s sister, Grete, is played endearingly by Hannah Sinclair Robinson. She is believable as a naïve teenage girl who idolises her brother, and she gives a particularly emotive performance in Act 2 as she becomes his sole carer, refusing to abandon him despite his ‘condition’. Her lengthy monologues are animated and delivered with gusto, keeping the audience engaged.
Troy Glasgow gives an equally convincing performance as Mr Samsa, the proud and domineering patriarch who is the first to shun his son when he is no longer living up to expectations. His repetitive anecdotal monologue explaining why beggars can’t be choosers is punchy, and he makes for a very entertaining drunk in Act 2 when he returns to this theme.
The matriarch, Mrs Samsa, is the provider of much of the comedy in the play, and Louise Mai Newberry brings this out brilliantly through facial expressions and perfect coming timing. She delivers her monologues with real feeling, alongside some nicely choreographed movement, and her characterisation in Act 2 is gutsy with just the right amount of sarcasm as she typifies the doting but slightly overbearing mother-figure.
Joe Layton plays the ‘villains’ of the piece, and does both parts justice. He is commanding and unfeeling as the Chief Clerk in Act One, drawing the audience in to his description of the process of silk-making, while depicting the ruthlessness of the sales industry, where workers are expendable and are cast aside if they’re not bringing in enough business. Layton is then pompous and domineering as the Lodger in Act 2, sneering at the Samsas and their house, and making him a thoroughly dislikable character.
Jon Bausor’s set is simple but effective, with the action all set in Gregor’s room, which is designed in such a way that actors can appear via a series of hidden entrances. It is stark and bland, and save for the use of bright and effective projections (though at times these are a little distracting), there is a distinct lack of colour in the entire production, presumably to reflect the dullness of a monotonous life of work. Lighting is one of the stand-out features of this production, cleverly designed by Simisola Majekodunmi, using shadow and projection to great effect, (especially notable following Samsa’s transformation, where there is a subtle hint at twitching legs and wings in his shadow) and regular blackouts help to punctuate scenes. Stefan Janik’s score underpins much of the production, adding to the almost uncomfortable atmosphere and helping to build tension.
This is the first production by Frantic Assembly I have seen, and the movement adds the dynamism the play needs, though at times, particularly during some of the longer monologues, it feels a little static and not quite as ‘frantic’ as one would expect. Overall, an intriguing production and well worth a watch.
Photos credit Tristram Kenton