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Published on Tuesday, 18 August 2009

"As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic vermin"… oops, a beetle, in this bold interpretation of the famous Kafkaesque story by The Cambridge University Theatre Group.

As we enter, we find the ensemble of actors frozen around - and seated on - a scaffold of metal tubing. Evocative of a labyrinth, the scaffold served as the main prop throughout the performance. The make-up reminded me somehow of the troubled faces of the children’s ghosts from the recent horror movie Orphanage, though Gregor’s family members were often styled more like puppets.

The story of Gregor Samsa, a traveling salesman, is a tragic tale about the transformation - both physical and psychological - of a human into a pest. As he turns from the breadwinner into a family burden, he loses his ability to communicate, but never stops reflecting. Gregor suffers intolerable loneliness and decides to finish life through starvation. His family, who have stopped thinking of him as their son long before his death, recover shockingly quickly from their loss.

Set on the edge of a surreal world, Metamorphosis' grotesque tableaux of inhuman and human scenes strike a chord with the polyphonic soundscape of atmospheric noises produced by the actors. The effects range from the squeaking of doors and falling of raindrops, to the weird sounds of the beetle digesting and his void attempts to speak. As a whole the show was delightful; its one failing was that, at times, it felt slightly too mechanical. Perhaps the light-rich, sound-rich visual narrative made the verbal story feel ordinary. I wondered, too, whether going the extra step and introducing real puppets for Gregor’s family would have enhanced the performance still further. Still, it’s an excellent adaptation which I strongly recommend.

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