A scene from Metamorphosis by Frantic Assembly @ Theatre Royal Plymouth. Photographer © Tristram Kenton.

Metamorphosis at Lyric Hammersmith Theatre | Review

Poetry and impressive movement eventually fall short in this underwhelming adaptation of Kafka’s legendary expressionistic novella. It has its moments, but Lemn Sissay’s script doesn’t quite hit the mark in a modern reworking of Kafka’s work.

Metamorphosis-Frantic Assembly - Theatre Royal Plymouth. Photographer © Tristram Kenton.
Metamorphosis-Frantic Assembly – Theatre Royal Plymouth. Photographer © Tristram Kenton.

Metamorphosis famously opens with Gregor Samsa waking up one day as a monstrous bug, insect, or vermin, take your pick. Well, not in this adaptation, instead we are treated to a laborious first act which amounts to a repetitive establishing of the world he lives in. We meet his parents, who bang on about a ‘man being what a man does‘ and that ‘beggars can’t be choosers‘, and what attempts to be a creation of the looming, expressionistic world of Kafka instead reads as a repetitive and uninventive hammering home of the same point. There is also the violin-playing sister where an incestuous relationship has been added to the source material it is unclear what this adds.

Eventually, we get to the good stuff, the second act opens with some more intriguing imagery and leaning into the metaphor and absurdism of Kafka’s novel. This breaks into the classic Kafka bread and butter, crushing worries about being late to work, an authoritarian chief clerk and all the usual characters from Franz’s back catalogue.

Perhaps I am alone in this opinion but the Berkoff adaptation felt as though it loomed large over the production. The Berkoff adaptation so masterfully captured and delved into the Kafka experience. This felt like it was tripping over itself both trying to differentiate itself while also trying to draw on the expressionistic black-and-white aesthetic of Berkoff.

The redeeming element of this was the visual language. Granted the blandly recognisable movement style of Frantic Assembly feels washed up and unimaginative, but there are some very interesting design choices. The use of silhouettes, and moments when the audience doesn’t have all the information, seeing grotesque suggestions of the transformation are good, and when it steps outside its comfort zone can be quite interesting.

Fundamentally, this is a show made for schools. The result is a demonstrative, unsubtle adaptation from excellent, complex and fascinating source material. Metaphor, which many would say is Kafka’s calling card is left at the door in a disappointing adaptation of a gloriously grotesque and unsettling novella.


Review by Tom Carter

One morning Gregor Samsa awakes to find himself changed. To those around him he is dangerous, untouchable vermin. Worse than that, he is a burden.

A word said, an action out of place, the opening of old wounds, none of which can be undone. Until now Gregor has woken every morning, quietly left to take the same train, and worked to pay off the family debt. But that world explodes on this morning of brutal metamorphosis.

Commissioned and produced by Frantic Assembly, in a co-production with Theatre Royal Plymouth, Curve, MAST Mayflower Studios and Lyric Hammersmith Theatre

By Franz Kafka. Adapted by Lemn Sissay OBE. Directed by Scott Graham.
01 Feb – 02 Mar 2024

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