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Review: The Metamorphosis

Scott Purvis reviews Vanishing Point's latest production that presents 'a fever dream of our lives'.

In a week where a virus creeps across Europe like a cockroach underfoot, it seems an artistically apt time for Matthew Lenton to adapt Frank Kafka's Metamorphosis, an absurdist tale in which a man wakes up to find himself victim to a bizarre health concern - he's been transformed into a beetle. Forced into self-isolation and fed with trembling hands by his anxious arsehole family, he begins to speak 'cockroach', a language which sounds oddly like Italian...

Use your hand sanitiser now, folks, and stand one meter back - Vanishing Point have an accidental satire so fresh it feels like it could have been coughed up an hour ago.

But this devised piece is more than just that. Whole swathes of The Metamorphosis feel like performance art - its dreamy use of soundscapes, Roald Dahl characterisation, transparent gauzes and quirky stage trickery gives this a piece an at times trippy quality which would be more at home in GOMA than the Tron.

Whilst these scenes can feel very drawn out, the detail in their observation of what it is to be part of the human race is intelligent. Unfortunately, the aspects of life which it portrays aren't always entertaining and, at times, it does wander perilously close to boredom. That is a huge accomplishment given the fact this is a play about a man who transforms into a bloody big bug.

With scratches of humour, Matthew Lenton's script and direction has a faint Mike Leigh feeling, an at times comic, at times gritty prod at the domestic sphere and its mundane vices, from the gig economy to NHS 24. Elicia Daly is funny as the protagonist's mum, a part which proves you can't spell "smother" without "mother", and Paul Thomas Hickey's performance brilliantly captures the awkwardness of everyone's dad.

It is disappointing that the piece never grabs the grotesqueness of the body horror sideshow its promises conceptually. What it does capture, quite beautifully, is the pain of human alienation, tenderly realised in Kenneth MacLeod's stark design and Nico Guerzoni's delicate, smooth performance as the cockroach - his vocal quality is smooth as an exoskeletal, full of fear, vulnerability and frustration.

This is not a piece of theatre which will satisfy all theatre goers like a stockpiled tin of soup but, especially when seen in the immediacy of the current climate, Covid's Metamorphosis becomes enjoyable in its absurdity.

Some will yawn; some will enjoy the interpretation. It doesn't matter. It is a living painting which should be seen as an artwork more than a play, a fever dream of our lives which will undoubtedly become all the more impactful as the strangeness of tomorrow becomes clear.

The Metamorphosis was reviewed at the Tron. Its tour has been suspended.

Tags: theatre

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