Skip to content


Metamorphosis by Steven Berkoff
Published on Sunday, 29 May 2011

4 stars

Marlborough Theatre (venue website)
26-28 May, 7:00pm-8:15pm
Reviewed by Carmel Doohan

 Suitable for age 15+ only.

Based on Kafka's famous novella, this adaptation by Stephen Berkoff uses exaggerated movement and disturbing themes to great effect. Gregor, the son of the Samsa family, is turned into an insect one morning – and what follows is a poetic analysis of duty and alienation.

Rob Leach uses his body magnificently to effect his metamorphosis into an insect, and true to the original story, his ability to convey emotion and bring tears spontaneously to his eyes makes him seem more human than anyone else on stage. The rest of the family mime and mimic emotions with a lack of feeling that proves incredibly uncomfortable.

This is a fragmented, repetitive and unnerving hour. Writer Steven Berkoff was a big fan of Bertolt Brecht, who coined the concept of theatrical alienation. This technique forces the audience to engage with the situation as critical observers, rather than giving in to the story either emotionally or passively. This distancing effect prevents engagement and is intended to stop the work from becoming “mere entertainment”.

Fittingly for a work of Kafka, the things I would use to damn any other play can be used to praise this one. The fact that I found the acting stilted and false is a mark of its success, and the way that all events were played out in the same flat pitch is down to Murray Hecht's precise directing.

I felt the alienation and boredom of the characters on stage. As this was created not through identification with them, but from something I actually experienced, I now can't get it out of my head. I didn't enjoy it at all. Kafka himself would be proud.

<< The King's Face   Mathematics of the Heart >>