Metamorphosis of The
Glasgow’s Tron Theatre
Five Sterne Stars
Theatre Grand, Leeds
Four Star Stars
From MARK BROWN
Since our theatres are temporarily closed by government order, it seems appropriate to introduce two excellent new productions to you, dear readers, which we hope will grace our stages again soon. The first is a work of absolute brilliance, The Metamorphosis, co-produced by Vanishing Point, Glasgow’s Tron Theatre and the Emilia Romagna Teatro Fondazione of Modena, Italy, a Scottish touring company.
The play is as perfectly balanced between the aesthetics of a theater director and the narrative of a writer as I have seen in a long time, based on the outstanding novella by Franz Kafka. Vanishing Point’s artistic director, Matthew Lenton, has a very distinct, poetic visual style. Sometimes this style threatens to overwhelm the narrative content of his work, as beautiful as it is, leaving him open to the charge that his work favors content over content.
No such complaints can occur here. The aesthetic of Lenton seems tailor-made for the nightmarish story of Kafka in which Gregor Samsa, a young worker caught in a dreary job by the need to pay off the debts of his father and feed his family, wakes up one morning to find himself turned into a giant insect.
From Marxist analysis of alienated labor to psychoanalytic musings on the influence of animal instincts on Gregor’s still-human mind, it’s a story full of metaphorical possibilities. In a play that, like Kafka’s story itself, moves between the material realities of our world and the surreal possibilities of a dream, Lenton and associate director Joanna Bowman powerfully draw on these aspects and more.
The updating of the job of Gregor from traveling salesman to delivery cyclist is a tour de force, as is the division of the play of the protagonist between Sam Stopford (the human spirit of Gregor) and Nico Guerzoni (whose insect Gregor speaks an Italian that comes across to the ears of Gregor’s family as animal gibberish). As in the novel, the efforts of Gregor’s loving sister Grete (Alana Jackson) to maintain human contact with the person within the giant, terrifying insect body are deeply moved by one.
Thanks to set designer Kenneth MacLeod, all of this is conveyed in a highly styled, consistently theatrical aesthetic that is at once somber and beautiful. As the staging requires, the screen separating Gregor’s room (front stage) from the family living room is darkened or made transparent by the excellent lighting designer Simon Wilkinson.
At times, we listen to the consistently excellent performers as, despite Gregor’s condition, the family tries to carry on with their lives. They are a silent presence at other moments, a tableau which emphasizes the insurmountable separation between them and Gregor.
Needless to say, this extraordinary stage work has a poignant, almost cautionary relevance to the strange and difficult times in which we find ourselves (with a resonant, atmospheric sound and music by Mark Melville). I sincerely hope that in a few months, when we return to the playhouses of the nation, we will applaud his humane insights.
From a first-rate new play to a new ballet that is impressively ambitious and courageous. The Geisha of Kenneth Tindall, created for Northern Ballet, a Leeds-based company, is a matter of aching beauty.
The piece, set in Japan in the 19th century, shines in the sumptuous set and costume images of Christopher Oram, inspired, of course, by the gloriously striking, opulent yet minimalist visual aesthetic synonymous with the Land of the Rising Sun. The ballet tells the tale of Okichi (danced by Minju Kang with tremendous grace, poise and emotion), who was sold to a geisha mother by her impoverished family as a young child.
The young woman is trained as a geisha along with her friend Aiko (the superb Sarah Chun) (a valued entertainer for the pleasure of wealthy men; unlike the oiran, the valued courtesans of 19th century Japan). The hundredth. Tindall is responsible for this subject matter to address the appalling, structural misogyny of this social system. This responsibility he does not shirk.
In one scene, as Okichi is dressed as a geisha for the local mayor for her new life, she is trapped, held in long, white silks. In another, the mayor dresses her up with a