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Dynamic, Chaotic and Physical: Review of Frantic Assembly’s Metamorphosis

Frantic Assembly takes on a new challenge, taking a decades old Kafka novel, The Metamorphosis, and putting it to the stage in their signature physical theatre style.

The set consisted of a singular room where nearly all the action takes place, with minimal furnishings: a bed, wardrobe, armchair, mirror and bedside table. The structure of the room itself was deliberately unnerving, painted a dirty grey wash of colour, and no angle of the ceilings and walls was straight as one would expect – making everything feel off kilter, much like the action of the play itself. 

A pivotal moment in the novel that I was waiting for, curious how they would choose to stage it, is the transformation of Gregor into a bug. We see Frantic Assembly’s physical style shine here with Felipe Pacheco as Gregor, using the set and props around him to show the stages of his uncomfortable transition. He starts by fighting against the bedsheets he is wrapped up in, then contorting himself around objects of furniture in the room, in an inhumane fashion, then finishing by dramatically using around five or six chairs bundled up on his arms and legs and splaying the legs of the chairs out emulating the legs of a bug itself. I was expecting them to take a traditional route of some dramatic costume change to indicate the transformation, but instead the focus is instead on the way the actor moves differently and the reaction by the other characters. Felipe climbs on the eves of the walls and hangs upside down by the light cord that hangs from the centre of the ceiling, all in a frantic, transformative fashion. The other character’s chaos in the scene also adds to the offputting nature of the transformation; we are made to feel as disturbed and confused as they do. 

Sometimes, however, the acting felt a bit too farcical and over the top for me. I can appreciate that Frantic Assembly have a certain style of acting they prescribe to, and this piece was no different. But the acting pales in comparison to their production of Othello at the Lyric I saw just a few months ago. Specifically, the acting of Mr and Mrs Samsa made moments that could have been impactful more comical instead. For instance, we get a monologue from Mrs Samsa in the latter half of the play when she goes into Gregor’s childhood, her experience with infertility, how this resulted in her infidelity, and more broad reflections on her marriage to Mr Samsa. The big moment, however, felt a bit tainted by the irritating accent she chose to put on, and the dramatic facial expressions that just didn’t seem to fit with the speech. 

However, the relationship between Gregor and Grete had emotional depth and both Felipe and Hannah Sinclair Robinson (Grete) worked well acting and, more importantly, reacting to each other. We see his care for her in his support of her musical aspirations, and we see her support for him after he is transformed, Grete being the only one that bug Gregor will allow to see and tend to him. There was also character growth from Grete from her childlike, reserved state at the start, to shows of defiance, then her climatic explosion, and then her ultimate submission to her role as daughter and more broadly a woman of society. However, it’s an unfortunate conclusion for their relationship, when Grete concedes to her parents’ wishes and assists in Gregor’s murder. 

Kafka’s themes of alienation and isolation that thread through the novella were explored in the theatrical characterisation of Gregor in the play, enhanced by the group’s physical theatre, including lifts, climbing the walls, and fight scenes. All of which warrant appreciation as it cannot be an easy task to do what those actors do with their bodies. I did feel empathy for Gregor in the play, though I think this could be pushed and explored further by the actors. Like all of Frantic Assembly’s works the play was unarguably dynamic and drew the attention of everyone in the audience, though this should not be in replacement of other essential theatrical elements – it was certainly lacking in other areas for me. Ultimately the play dynamic and eye-catching, and certainly a fun – and chaotic – two hours of my life.

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