Culture Theatre

Review: After Metamorphosis

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐

A rumbling soundscape fills the corridor as the audience walks in. On the stage are 3 desks. At two of them, a man (Ali Maloney) and a woman sit staring with deadpan faces, and at the other, a man sits with his back to us (Lewis Sherlock). Immediately, it all feels very Kafkaesque. But what transpires is in fact not very Kafkaesque. The piece stems from Kafka’s The Metamorphosis but is entirely Maloney and Sherlock’s own thing: an intense and fragmented inquiry of grotesqueness and humanness, which doesn’t quite hit the mark but certainly has its sharp moments.

The play begins with Maloney speaking emphatically into a microphone as he tells the origin story of the play’s protagonist: Gregor Samsa- the homonymous protagonist of The Metamorphosis. An almost dubstep-like beat plays overhead, and the woman at the desk behind begins to sign Maloney’s script in BSL with a crisp, animated emphasis in her movement. She is immediately compelling, but in the end, she is lost to the piece, not in any way incorporated into the drama on stage; so you would often forget she is there.

Another issue emerges quite quickly in the opening, which is that there is too much narration with loud music and not enough action. Maloney has great quirky zeal and the script is nicely unadorned whilst still poetic, but at times it is hard to hear what is being said and grow repetitive, making it difficult to stay tuned into or connect with the story. So, it feels particularly intriguing when Gregor (Sherlock) first turns and reveals an alarmed face to the audience, immediately assuming a jerky ‘bugness’ which he sustains throughout the piece excellently.

One particularly electric moment is when Gregor dances on the spot to thumping house music. For an uncomfortably mesmeric few minutes, he is simultaneously humorous and menacing as he twitches and convulses and grimaces at us. This is what the piece needs more: allowing movement and character to tell the story and get inside the inner human experience. Indeed, the moments Gregor speaks as himself in the performance is the most genuinely tense: “How does anyone sleep at night?!”, he at one point shrills up at the sky.

As for what experience and story the piece intend to tell, this is unclear. A commentary on capitalism’s formidable erosion of the self into a cog comes through distinctly. “Every worker in the chain is part of the machine” raps Maloney as Gregor manically reads and staples piece of paper, after piece of paper, after piece of paper until he is a wreck. A nice touch was a bird’s eye view shot of Gregor at his desk projected onto a screen behind, feeling very Big-Brotherish. Yet beyond this, the intention and commentary of the piece felt hazy. The story of Gregor Samsa, in whatever form it may be told, should unsettle and provoke, but After Metamorphosis lacks an arc, pathos and tension, at times feeling somewhat random. This goes also for the use of projection and puppetry, which is entertaining but introduced and moved on from too quickly.

Although not quite conclusive or whole, After Metamorphosis is an impressive, playful, and sensory ride that will certainly excite and engross you, just not particularly stir you.

Image: Actors performing After Metamorphosis, photo by ©Elly White, Courtesy of MANIPULATE Press Kit