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Metamorphosis review at Old Rep Theatre, Birmingham – ‘impressive physicality’

Adam Lloyd-James in Metamorphosis at Old Rep Theatre, Birmingham. Photo: Joe Samuels

Franz Kafka’s 1915 novella about a man who turns into a beetle is primarily a story of failed communication. This is also true of Beyond the Horizon’s new update but, in its attempt to represent the characters’ inner lives, the company underplays the action, making for an inert production.

The transformation of Adam Lloyd-James’ Gregor Samsa is a gradual process – he changes every time he leaves the stage – but it is convincingly horrific, thanks to Sarah Luscombe’s make-up design.

The actor’s physical embodiment of the beetle is another highlight. The make-up of peeling skin and damaged flesh is neither completely human nor insect, and Lloyd-James similarly situates himself between the two. His hunched back and stiff limbs, whether writhing in pain or skittering around the stage, are at times painful to watch. It’s an admirably uncanny performance.

This accomplished physicality is, however, undermined by the decision to use voice-over for some of his thoughts. Meanwhile, much of the production is taken up with extended monologues, telling us how the characters feel, rather than showing us.

There’s also an imbalance in the tone. Luke Hardwell plays a series of caricatures of Gregor’s workplace colleagues, and does so well, but this seem at odds with the naturalistic scenes featuring Gregor’s family. The shifts between these two tones aren’t fluid enough, and it becomes unclear how we are supposed to react to Gregor’s transformation.

The best moments of the piece come when the characters are allowed to do more than talk, but these are too few and too far between.

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Impressive physical transformation let down by a static production