Scottish theatre company Vanishing Point has created an adaptation of Franz Kafka’s nebulous novel The Metamorphosis that reflects the times in which it’s been created.
The intended allegories of Kafka’s work, in which salesman Gregor Samsa is transformed into an insect, have always been vague and open to interpretation, but Vanishing Point’s artistic director Matthew Lenton makes his own intentions clear.
Lenton has spoken in interviews of the way Kafka’s story made him consider how it must have felt to be Jewish in Europe before the Second World War. Here, delivery cyclist Gregor’s insect manifestation is played by Emilia Romagna Teatro’s Nico Guerzoni, the only actor speaking surtitled Italian among an ensemble of Scots, and a less traditionally masculine figure than Sam Stopford’s pre-transformation Gregor.
The design is perfect, from Mark Melville’s cold but searingly emotive electronic score to Simon Wilkinson’s stark neon lighting and Kenneth MacLeod’s set and costume, including the bedroom nest occupied by Gregor and the martial uniforms his family adopt when they’re forced into work.
Behind a mesh screen, Gregor’s working-class family provides a banquet and entertainment for a scoffing pair of class superiors, while Gregor – his speech and body language interpreted as something unintelligible and horrifying by the others – is ostracised by his disappointed father (Paul Thomas Hickey), his loving but devoid-of-understanding mother (Elicia Daly), and finally his caring but frustrated sister (Alana May Jackson).
As a portrait of contemporary othering due to gender, nationality and language, it’s a powerful piece. Amid the coronavirus outbreak that halted the show’s Italian premiere, the tangible sense of body horror and repulsion is almost impossible to bear.