Review: Metamorphosis

The story of a beetle, capitalism and one dysfunctional family.

Contains spoilers.

“There is nothing wrong with your television set” says an overarching voice, as lights start to flash. You feel like you are being watched. “We are controlling it”. The atmosphere is tense, everyone is on the edge of their seats. Suddenly everything goes dark and quiet. “Who’s that?” theme song written by Stan Hunt starts to play, completely changing the mood. The trailer plays on the black and white screens attached to the scaffolding. The audience is confused. The play begins.

Kafka’s Metamorphosis tells the story of Gregor Samsa, a travelling salesman who is forced to support his family and live in misery, until one day he is suddenly turned into an insect, shifting the family dynamic and now forcing his parents and sister to care for him, a revolting creature who they can’t help but hate.

Stephen Berkoff’s adaptation of Metamorphosis is a hard play to put on, but director Em Sparkes with assistant directors Natina Rose and Tungsten Tang have not only managed to do so, but make it an utter success. Full house on opening night, standing ovation. The passion and the amount of thought that went into this production were felt in every scene.

The play emerges as a profound and haunting exploration of the human condition, bringing to life the surreal and disconcerting world Kafka created in his literary masterpiece. Directed with finesse and performed with raw emotion, this rendition of Metamorphosis captivates audiences from the first moment and leaves a lasting impression that lingers long after the curtain falls. There wasn’t a moment of boredom and every scene was in its place. The incorporation of comedic elements made the play a bit lighter, a choice that seemed to resonate with the audience. However, personally, I found these moments slightly distracting, pulling me momentarily from the depth of the narrative. There were also instances where the play felt a bit rushed, leaving me yearning for more nuanced exploration, particularly of the intricate dynamics within the Samsa family.

The director made an unexpected decision to set the play as a 1950s television programme. This bold and creative move added personality to the show, but seemed a bit weird at times. The viewer felt like they were watching family drama unfold on the small screen of a black and white TV. This unusual setting provided an intriguing backdrop to the tragic story of Gregor Samsa, offering a unique lens through which to view his unsettling transformation.

The Samsas (Image credits: Paul Ashley)

An unquestionably wonderful performance came from Liam Macmillan as Gregor, who was able to flawlessly convey the character with his quirks, anxieties, anger, despair and frustration. His transformation from human to insect was so well executed it was hard to believe that he could stand upright in the end. The pain in his voice and his screams, unheard by the family, were absolutely soul crushing and were felt deeply by the audience. His contortionist-like movements, constant trembling and screeching were disturbing, wrong, nauseating, everything they were supposed to be. A huge shoutout goes to the movement director Nathaniel Gunn and Em Sparkes, who have made a fantastic job in figuring out how to choreograph a human transforming into a monstrous vermin.

Gregor under a bed (Image credits: Paul Ashley)

Gregor’s sister, Greta, by Ellie Worth was also exceptional. She absolutely stole the show. And isn’t the play really about her metamorphosis? The transformation in her feelings to Gregor from an almost obsessive love to hatred of the being he had become was outstanding, and Worth’s change in voice and mannerisms enhanced this effect. She was able to say things with just her eyes, and her range of facial expressions, made even more prominent by the heavy black lipstick, was absolutely brilliant.

Great playing the violin (Image credits: Tungsten Tang)

Mother, played by Kate South, and father, played by Joe Pattison, were insufferable. You hated them and despised them. With the right amount of exaggeration and insincerity, the actors portrayed the parents in a way which tied everything together. Phenomenal job. Noah Chamberlain as Chief Clerk and the Lodgers was a great addition to the cast. Although seeming a bit nervous at times, he was able to play the characters in a manner that added to the play and supported the other actors.

Purposefully favouring the Corpus Playroom to the ADC Theatre, Sparkes managed to use all the aspects of this space, that are usually critiqued, to her advantage. The set was brilliantly designed. The L-shaped room made the actors look to the corner, rather than directly at you, creating the feeling that you are watching a slightly turned screen of an old television. A separate acknowledgement goes to the technical team led by Angus Cha – the scaffolding, although seems strange when one first enters the space, fits amazingly within the play. The use of it by Gregor and the simultaneous freedom and restriction of movements it gives him is not only fitting, but creates the flow of the show. The scaffolding also allows there to be a separation between Gregor’s room and the living room, which evokes the feeling of a cage inside the family home.

Assembled scaffolding (Image credits: Tungsten Tang)

Another shoutout goes to the costume designer Nicholle Montevalde. When actors first enter, the viewer is shocked by the black and white makeup and lack of colour in costumes. An eerie atmosphere is created and the tone is set for the rest of the show. As the play goes on, Gregor’s makeup fading and his shirt ripping more and more to shreds were a great demonstration of his degradation. I only wish there were more changes in the physical appearances of the family, as it would have added to the emotional transformation so well portrayed by the actors.

Video day hair and makeup (Image credits: Paul Ashley)

The climax of the play, with Gregor’s death, was simply stunning. As the light switched to warm orange, as the sun finally shone on the miserable family and their curse was lifted, you could feel the painful relief of the Samsas. The moment of darkness afterward left the audience drained yet fulfilled. Here credit goes to the lighting director, Hillary Qiu. The light throughout the whole show complemented the content and elevated the production.

Dress rehearsal (Image credits: Tungsten Tang)

The show succeeds not just as a faithful adaptation of Kafka’s work, but as a powerful commentary on the dehumanizing effects of societal expectations. The script, set, lights, actors, costumes – everything comes together resulting in a powerful and touching play that I would definitely recommend watching.


Metamorphosis is showing from the 17th-21th of October at the Corpus Playroom at 7:00 pm. Book your tickets here.

Feature image credits: Tungsten Tang

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