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Review of Metamorphosis at Lyric Theatre - A Haunting Exploration of the Human Condition

Rated 🍯🍯🍯🍯🍯

A derelict-looking bedroom in an old house with a small bed, a mirror, a desk and a chair
Stage is set at Lyric Hammersmith for Metamorphosis

As the bee ventured into a spine-chilling adaptation of Franz Kafka’s novel, Metamorphosis, at Lyric Hammersmith, it found itself ensnared in a web of shadow, light, and existential dread.

This adaptation, while not tracing Kafka's story with exactitude, shares its themes and introduces new layers, making it a compelling watch for those intrigued by the blend of the mundane with the deeply philosophical. Metamorphosis is not for the faint of heart. It's a cerebral journey through themes of alienation, familial obligation, and the existential terror of existence.

The bee recommends this show to those who appreciate the philosophical underpinnings of Kafka's work, enjoy thought-provoking theatre, and are not deterred by a narrative that delves into the darker aspects of human nature.

The Unveiling of Terror: Gregor Samsa's Plight

The raw and naked terror of Gregor Samsa was evident and blatantly conspicuous from the beginning, diverging from the Kafka novel where Gregor's transformation is a sudden, bewildering event. This departure from the original — internal terror and gradual metamorphosis before any physical change occurs — is a compelling interpretation, suggesting that death, much like life, is a continuum. The bee interprets this as a form of living death for Gregor, marked by torment and alienation before his transformation even begins.

Immersive Stagecraft: A Symphony of Shadows

The first half of the performance stands as a testament to the power of innovative stagecraft. The ingenious use of shadows to create abstract symbols and shapes not only contributes to the eerie atmosphere but also serves as a metaphorical representation of the insidious transformation within Gregor, and the ever-present terror in the Samsa household. This subtle staging choice mirrors the creeping realization of Gregor's metamorphosis, both for him and the audience.

The physicality of the actor embodying Gregor Samsa, Felipe Pacheco, is nothing short of astonishing, as he transforms his human form into an insect-like entity without the aid of elaborate costumes, relying solely on his prowess in crouching, crawling, and even hanging from the ceiling. This innovative approach offers a fresh perspective on Gregor's existential plight.

Samsa’s Webs: The Complexity of Familial Bonds

The portrayal of the Samsa family further enriches this narrative, revealing complex dynamics of care, denial, and eventual estrangement. The family's initial ignorance of Gregor's descent into madness, although hints suggest this ignorance is willful, stemming from a denial to face the truth.

The belief that Gregor is working off the family’s debts becomes an addictive illusion, eagerly upheld by his family despite its obvious falsehood. Gregor's sister is the only one who seems to have a clue about Gregor’s despair and madness, yet she is also the most helpless, unable to alter his dire situation due to her emotional connection and the family's collective denial.

Familial affection appears nonexistent, not from selfishness but because dire circumstances have stripped them of the luxury to nurture bonds. The shared purpose of paying off debt becomes the only glue holding them together, underscoring the societal and economic pressures that distort familial relationships.

Reflecting in the Shadows: Contemplations on Existence

As the bee delves deeper into the play's layers, it encounters themes that provoke further reflection. The sensory stimuli of the play assault the senses, trapping the bee in Gregor’s headspace of pain and despair. The transition into the second half of Metamorphosis allows for a contemplative observation of adaptation and acclimatization.

The theme of moral relativism becomes provocative, challenging the audience to question what we owe to one another and what family truly means. Is familial love an obligation, or do responsibilities foster love?

The bee indulges in reflection on the human capacity for self-delusion to avoid confronting unpleasant truths, recommending this show to those who revel in thought-provoking narratives that explore the darker aspects of human nature.

In Search of Light: Balancing Darkness with Moments of Beauty

The play, while masterfully exploring themes of darkness, despair, and dehumanization, might benefit from integrating moments of beauty, human connection, and affection. These moments, though potentially scarce, could serve as poignant reminders of the complexity of human emotions and relationships, adding nuance to the narrative and offering a more rounded critique of the human condition.

Closing Thoughts: The Subjectivity of Theatrical Experience

In reflecting on the emotional and thematic depth of the play, the bee contemplates the inherent subjectivity of art. The emotional resonance of Metamorphosis, deeply moving for the bee, may not echo universally, highlighting the personal nature of theatrical experience.

In all, the bee had a moving experience. The Lyric Theatre's adaptation of Metamorphosis serves as a stark reminder of the power of theatre to confront, challenge, and captivate. Its exploration of existential dread, alienation, and the intricacies of human relationships, while steeped in darkness, offers a profound reflection on the human condition. This production, with its innovative stagecraft and compelling performances, underscores the enduring relevance of Kafka's work.

Five stars!


Watched Feb 2024 at Lyric Hammersmith. Metamorphosis is playing at Lyric Hammersmith until 2 March 2024.

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