‘Metamorphosis (Die Verwandlung)’ is a fantasy tragedy, blended with black comedy. The novella was written in 1912 whilst German playwright Franz Kafka was in Prague. Kafka’s works are famous for having numerous interpretations by literary giants. Although the English version was printed in 1915 it was another 50 years before Steven Berkoff adapted it into a stage play.

The producers of this adaptation’s WA Premiere are Curtin’s Theatre Arts and the Hayman Theatre Company.

This absurdist play can be seen in the fabulous, newly renovated Hayman Theatre area, in building 302 at Curtin University. Enter off Manning Road, onto Townsing Road, Bentley turn right and go anti-clockwise around the university ring road for 0.6 km.

This highly stylised production includes mime, acrobatics, visual effects and the typical Kafka rollercoaster of emotions and tension. With Covid lockdown now being generally accepted, this theatre show’s situation of Gregor’s lockdown may not be as distressing as it was 100 years ago.

Curtain up on this fast moving, gripping 70-minute production is at the early time of 7.00 pm nightly until Saturday 12th September 2020.

THEATRE ARTS at Curtin University is Western Australia’s longest running tertiary theatre programme since 1973. Students at Curtin study a range of units that build the theatre maker’s toolkit exploring approaches to acting, devising, dramaturgy, directing, movement, voice, and technical theatre. All students study all aspects.

Because of limited seating due to Covid – only about half the seats will be available. It is essential to book your seats.

Enquiries: Webpage

The Scene: 1900 The Samsa’s upmarket family flat, especially Gregor’s bedroom.

The Set: Stephen Carr’s ingenious and original set design was brought to life by his assistants Jake McIntyre and Max Leunig. The stage had no curtains, no wings nor drapes – just bare black walls. The rear stage wall was a white screen. Centre stage was a cage (Gregor’s see-through bedroom walls) built of polished scaffolding poles, that radiated out to the auditorium. These poles produced lines that drew the audience’s attention into the centre of action.

The black bedroom floor, that sloped towards the audience, had lights showing through the cracks in the planks. The only other props were three black stools.

The excellent lighting design was by Clarissa Lee. She captured the moods from romantic to horror. Her efficient operator was Kira Bolitho.

Sound design and composition were by John Congear. He produced a low creepy rumble throughout the play. There were patches of low level, discordant music – like old fashioned saw music (played on a wood saw with a violin bow) – most subtle and effective. The operator was Kyle Bartlett who never missed a cue and had just the right level of volume.

Stage Management was by Chloe Palliser and her deputy Ella Wakeman.

Production was smoothly supervised and managed by Stephen Carr.

Because of his deprived life, a cloth merchant and travelling salesman, Gregor Samsa (Samuel Addison) awakes one morning to discover he has transformed into a ‘monstrous vermin’ (usually accepted as a ‘cockroach’). He initially considers the transformation to be temporary. Being cut off from his family and former life he slowly ponders the consequences of this metamorphosis.

Unable to get out of his bed for work, he is visited by his tyrannical and indignant boss – the office manager and chief clerk (Sebastian Boyd). Being the family’s breadwinner, Gregor is also having to pay off the bankruptcy of Mr Samsa (Alex Hutchings) his father.

Without Gregor’s income, the family leads a meagre existence. Gregor’s beloved younger sister, Greta (Shelby McKenzie) is petrified by his appearance. She feeds him valuable, fresh nutritious food but Gregor prefers it rotten before eating it.

Seeing that Gregor is crawling around every surface of the room, Greta and her mother, Mrs Samsa (Dominique Duvall) remove furniture to give him extra space but this distresses him. However, it is the removal of his beloved portrait on the wall of a woman clad in fur – a salute to Kafka’s favourite play ‘Venus in furs.’ – that upsets him most. In the fracas, both his mother and Gregor become severely injured. Whilst recovering, Gregor takes very little food and becomes saddened by family’s negligence and the fact they use his room for storage.

To earn a few Deutsche marks, the family takes in tenants (Rachel Abelha, Sacha Emeljanow, Sebastian Boyd). With a desire to contribute and be useful to the family, Greta become the cleaning lady. Repulsed by his foul room, she tries to help relieve Gregor’s isolation by leaving his bedroom door open when the tenants are out. Before this metamorphosis, Gregor hoped to fund his sister’s violin studies (violin music and movement by Jasmine Valentini) . As she plays in the living room he crawls out of his room. The new horrified tenants are disgusted and cancel their lease agreement.

What will happen to Gregor, his once cherished but now cruel sister Greta and his broken-hearted parents?

The direction of this play is exceptional, many congratulations to Teresa Izzard. Kafka is admired but usually avoided by most directors and casts as being confusing or too hard. The cast were usually mega fit, climbing the room walls, doing cartwheels (acrobatics coach Genevieve Moran) and miming (coach Ellis Pearson) their mealtimes; then suddenly they would regress into automatons with rigid movements, contorting as though their batteries were almost flat.

The superb cast were word perfect and managed to retain the tension throughout the performance. Although their delivery was perfectly correct for a normal stage (coach Donald Woodburn), this stage’s hard surround meant that they needed to slow down slightly to stop the dialogue becoming garbled by the echo.

The costume design was clever thanks to Grace Williams-Young and her assistants, Ella Waterman, Asha Perry, Kiri Siva, Jane Tero, Amber Anderson and Sarah Connolly. Every aspect of the characters and the era were shown in the costumes, from the white innocence of Greta in a pinafore sailor-style dress, the jackboots of the cruel father and the drab black gown of the downtrodden mother. Ella was also in charge of Make Up. The faces were white, with the actors’ bone structure being marked out in black. Whilst climbing the scaffold, the girls retained their modesty in 1900 style by wearing frilly baggy knickers. The lodgers – three men (two played by women) – wore business suits and white shirts.

The final consideration: Gregor suffers retrogressive metamorphosis; however, sister Greta develops because of the situations becoming a responsible adult and a blossoming young woman. So, who do you think metamorphosed? Or could it even be the fact that Gregor was based on an expression of Kafka’s father complex, so could it even be Kafka himself who transformed?

The director, cast and techies have obviously worked hard together to make this complex script become crystal clear, a rarity for a Kafka play. The whole performance was slick and assured. Many congratulations to superb teamwork.