First published in The Times, Tuesday March 17 2020
Vanishing Point, the Glasgow-based theatre company led by Matthew Lenton, tends to develop much of its acclaimed, highly distinctive work in rehearsal, often creating radical versions of plays such as Maurice Maeterlinck’s Interiors and John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera. However, the company’s stunning take on Franz Kafka’s novella The Metamorphosis (in collaboration with the Tron and Italy’s Emilia Romagna Teatro Fondazione) is remarkably faithful to its source, and it marks a culmination of Lenton’s concerns and signature style.
Kafka’s deadpan description of the transformation of the salesman Gregor Samsa into a huge bug is of course one of the most famous openings in literature. Vanishing Point’s version is no less potent for steering clear of elaborate effects and horror make-up. Here, Gregor (played by Sam Stopford), an exhausted bicycle courier who supports his parents financially and salts away money to support the the musical ambitions of his sister (Alana May Jackson), morphs into a new form played by Nico Guerzoni, whose androgynous appearance and use of the Italian language immediately marks him out as “other”. His family treats him with distaste and suspicion at first, but eventually this becomes blatant cruelty.
Pic: Mihaela Bodlovic
Lenton’s equation of the alienation and isolation experienced by Kafka’s protagonist with contemporary hostilities meted out to those who stick out from the mainstream, whether it be for their nationality or gender, is immediately clear. The show’s ideas are inextricably wound with its aesthetic. Audiences familiar with the company’s work will recognise a number of recurrent images and motifs. Kenneth MacLeod’s striking set design, which partitions the stage by the use of a transparent screen, locates Gregor’s slowly degenerating bedroom downstage, but the rest of the family can be glimpsed and heard from upstage, attempting to go about their daily lives.
Pic: Mihaela Bodlovic
This enduring story of radical change versus everyday normality has acquired added poignancy against the backdrop of the coronavirus outbreak (the company was forced to suspend its planned Italian premiere). Thematic resonance aside, much of the show’s power is purely visceral, with Simon Wilkinson’s woozy lighting coming together with the insinuating sound design, composed by Mark Melville, to create a vision that is unnerving without ever feeling strained. The script and exquisite performances, with flashes of black humour, add to the sense of unease and Guerzoni is just heartbreaking in the lead role.
Box office: 0141 552 4267, to March 21. vanishing-point.org