There’s nothing to unseat what develops into a highly competent, thought-provoking and watchable interpretation of Berkoff’s Kafka

Venue: Black Box Theatre, Department of Theatre, Film and Television, Heslington East
Run: 8th- 10th December 2011
Rating: ****

This week sees the performance of two Berkoff adaptations of Kafka in the Black Box theatre of York University’s own Theatre, Film and Television department: The Trial, and Metamorphosis. The student-led productions feature cast and crew pulled from the ranks of the university’s third-year theatre students. Berkoff’s stage adaptation of The Metamorphosis is a very challenging play, and at its best showcases the alienation which has come to characterise German theatre, as well as the original works of Kafka himself.

After having seen The Trial on Thursday, I was anxious to see how the same space- the Black Box of TFTV- could be put to good use a second time, for a play that is both very different and very similar. As it turns out it can, and it certainly was. The staging here is masterful, with Gregor’s room- wherein much of the action takes place- is situated above and in the centre of the space. Not only is this an obviously effective way of showcasing the process for which The Metamorphosis is named, but it’s also a visual manifestation of Will Hardie’s intentions as a director as regards prioritization. It’s also worth noting the three high-backed chairs which sit centre stage, below Gregor’s ‘box’; their disproportionate appearance is suggestive of warping and change, before the action begins at all, and they play into that uncanny sense of something everyday being subtly changed. A very, very promising start.

The performance begins with a very loud screech of violin- before the immortal lines which open Kafka’s short novel: ‘one morning, Gregor Samsa awoke from troubled dreams to find himself transformed into a monstrous beetle’. We’re swiftly introduced to all the characters, and there’s a sense that this performance is not going to waste any time. Heather Siddle, Adrian McPherson and Elizabeth Bennett range from passable to very good in their portrayal of the unfortunate Gregor’s family, but there’s nothing to unseat what develops into a highly competent, thought-provoking and watchable interpretation of Berkoff’s Kafka.

I must admit, to my shame, I was initially less than credulous of the productions need for two separate ‘movement directors’. Suffice it to say, that as soon as the actual event of metamorphosis had taken place my mouth was well and truly shut; Nick Green’s physicalization of the ‘monstrous vermin’ is just perfect, the kind of spot-on perfect that comes when a talented and compliant performer is directed by the most competent of external influences. It’s Nick Green’s portrayal that really makes this play, and it’s the physical realisation of Gregor Samsa that allows him to do that. Ultimately, this was a performance worthy of a much larger stage.

I really take my hat off to the Metamorphosis team; truth be known, I’m a big Kafka fan- and it’s not easy to please a Kafka fan with Berkoff’s secondhand scripts. I wasn’t just pleased, however, I was delighted. This is really a production which adds something to Berkoff’s script as well as Kafka’s novel; it was a pleasure to watch.

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