9 February 2013

Metamorphosis at the Lyric Hammersmith

I have only been to the Lyric Hamersmith a couple of times (my fault) and it is growing on me.

On this trip I got there late afternoon for some coffee and cake, then watched the France v Wales Rugby Union International on my iPad using their wi-fi and then moved from the coffee bar to the restaurant area for a pizza before climbing several flights of stairs up to the front row of the Circle to see Metamorphosis.

I had heard of the book, of course, but not read it. What attracted me to the play was the Lyric's description of it which explained that it was being put on again because it had been so successful the first time. It also sounded odd, and I like odd.

Things start off well enough. We meet the struggling but happy enough Samsa family. The father is out of work, the mother looks after the house, the daughter Grete is still at school and the son Gregor keeps them all afloat through his job as a travelling salesman.

Things start to go wrong when Gregor fails to get up at 5am for breakfast and so has missed his train to work. The family is worried and Grete goes upstairs to chivvy him along.

Gregor has changed overnight.

We do not know what into because he is not wearing a costume but we can see him crawling on the walls of his room, which is on-end compared to the rest of the house, and while he can understand what is said to him when he speaks all the family can hear is shrieking that forces them to cover their ears.

We, in the audience, can hear him perfectly well.

These two devices, the tilted room and the changed voice, is all that is need to convey the metamorphosis and this simplicity is the core of the play. We know a major change has happened but it does not get between us and the story.

That story is about the changes that Gregor's metamorphosis brings to other people, in particular the way that they react to him and the changed circumstances caused by the loss of his salary.

The family vary between being shocked, appalled and sympathetic. He is part of the family after-all and they have no idea whether the change is permanent or not.

Other people appear briefly, such as somebody from Gregor's work checking up on him and, much later, a possible suitor for Grete who she knows from the shop she works in and who is looking for a spare room to rent. Their encounters with Gregor do not go well.

The play works on some many levels (no pun intended) and there is a lot in there to feast on, such as Grete's violin, the positive power of a uniform, the impact of austerity on dreams and, at its heart, the workings of a family.

Gregor may grab most of the attention by climbing walls and swinging from curtains but the rest of the family are played excellently too.

To add another touch of strangeness there is also a soundtrack of songs by Nick Cave (lyrical genius) and Warren Ellis (not the comics one).

Metamorphosis is a story like no other and this stage adaptation reflects that admirably. It is unusual, complex and rich without ever being intrusive  This is theatre with a difference and it is a difference that I love.

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