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Blog // Thoughts
February 24, 2009

Hong Kong Arts Festival – Metamorphosis

When the 2009 Hong Kong Arts Festival programme was announced last year, one of the fixtures that caught my eye was the Vesturport and Lyric Hammersmith production of Kafka’s Metamorphosis. First off, Kafka is one of my favourite 20th Century writers and Metamorphosis had a big impact on me. Second, it’s a notoriously difficult difficult […]

When the 2009 Hong Kong Arts Festival programme was announced last year, one of the fixtures that caught my eye was the Vesturport and Lyric Hammersmith production of Kafka’s Metamorphosis. First off, Kafka is one of my favourite 20th Century writers and Metamorphosis had a big impact on me. Second, it’s a notoriously difficult difficult story to adapt to the stage or screen, because of the physical transformation of the main character. Third, I had read glowing reviews of the original staging of this production. Fourth, the original music is composed by Nick Cave (with long time collaborator, Warren Ellis).

I wasn’t disappointed. This is a smart, well-paced, visually compelling and emotionally engaging interpretation of what is a great, prescient fable about exclusion and prejudice in the mid 20th Century.

A single set is used for the entire play, split to reveal two floors of the Samsa family home. Downstairs is a typical, rundown family dining room, with stairs leading up to the bedrooms. Gregor’s bedroom dominates the upstairs part of the stage and in a brilliant twist we see it not from floor level, but from the perspective of the ceiling. So, we are looking down onto Gregor’s bed, chair and table.

This wonderfully Hitchockian shift of perception introduces a heightened sense of tension to every interaction and movement in the room – which is exaggerated by the physical tension of Gisli Orn Gardarsson’s portrayal as a he literally climbs around the room, suspending himself horizontally across the stage to assume what would be normal upright positions.

Kafka’s plot device in Metamorphosis is Gregor’s sudden transformation into a hideous insect-like creature. He becomes grotesque to his family who, in turn, lose the ability to communicate with him and in the end shun him completely. In this staging Gregor does not actually transform in the way he presents himself to the audience, aside from his physical movements.

The consequence of this is that we focus our attention not so much on Gregor’s change, but on the way his family react to that change, to their perception of what his change means for them. We imagine his appearance but face the reality of their reaction to it.

The great prescience of Metamorphosis was Kafka’s ability to use to the story as a way to talk about the threat to “outsiders” in the face of European fascism.

This staging brings that out, but also makes a far more everyday point about how shame and prejudice (social and ethnic) can play themselves out in family contexts. For an entertaining hour and a half we, the audience, are forced to confront the ways we wish to control change in those around us and the tendency to limit our potential to love, on the basis of how others might interpret those acts of love.

Great theatre always shines a light on out foibles and contradictions and this was great theatre indeed.

[tags] Hong Kong Arts Fesitval, Metamorphosis [/tags]

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