Tron Theatre brings us a new(ish) version of Kafka‘s classic, this time adapted and directed by Vanishing Point‘s Matthew Lenton. In fact, The Metamorphosis was initially playing at the Tron in March 2020 before being cancelled midway through its run for obvious reasons… It now returns, opening in Glasgow before a Scottish tour to Dundee, Inverness, and Edinburgh.
What is immediately striking in this production is Kenneth MacLeod‘s stark, sleek set design, evoking a dystopian home of the bleak future. Upstage, we watch background action through a blurred semi-transparent screen. Is it a giant television or a window into Gregor’s anxious mind? A constant sense of unease and discomfort is also established early on via Mark Melville‘s synthetic, eerie soundscape that rises and falls, but never fully leaves.
In Lenton’s contemporary take of the story, he cleverly eschews a literal giant insect transformation of protagonist Gregor (Sam Stopford). Instead, Gregor wakes with a doppelgänger (Nico Guerzoni) in his bed; a mirror self who speaks Italian and can no longer communicate with his family. At points, he oozes black goo and crawls around the floor, but he is always clearly human – a key facet in creating pathos and maintaining the allegorical nature of the play. Gregor now represents ‘the other’ (even within his own family): a refugee, an immigrant, an ethnic minority. Even when Gregor’s father (Paul Thomas Hickey) provides comic relief, his jokes are based on fear, cynicism, and xenophobia.
Guerzoni is a magnetic performer here. He portrays Gregor as lost, melancholic, and terrified, and the whole cast frighteningly echo how easy it is to dehumanise and alienate someone who is different, even in small ways. The more Gregor is treated as an outcast, the filthier his costume and makeup become, along with the stage. His differences grow exponentially as he is injured and dirt, food, and broken objects litter his room.
There is a slight feeling of a plateau in the second half. Gregor’s demise becomes so dismal that we lose a sense of drive, although it is perhaps intentional – submerging us in his miserable, isolated state. However, a last-act manipulation of the set and props results in a startling final image. The Metamorphosis haunts and asks us to consider our treatment of those who seem ‘foreign’ – a particularly apt message at this time.