Metamorphosis: Kafka transformed

Metamorphosis in performance. Photo by Jan Potgieter.

Kafka. My man. Existentialism! Yes!

Director Alby Michaels and the incomparable cast of William Harding, Ameera Patel, Khutjo Green, and Craig Morris (who choreographed too) do superb justice to The Metamorphosis.

Quick-quick if you don’t know: The story surrounds the grim life of Gregor Samsa, a hard-working young man, and his sister Grete and parents who rely entirely on him to bring home the bacon. One morning he wakes up to discover he’s inexplicably become something else… a bug.

Writer Franz Kafka penned The Metamorphosis about a century ago. Europe was not well. The dirty boots of a catastrophic world war were heavy on the throats of innocent citizens and economic desperation seethed into all crevices of life. This UJ Arts & Culture production of Metamorphosis bolsters the message that all is still not well in our world. They have transposed the story to South Africa (the Afrikaans chief clerk is a hint).

Food features in the work. Gregor’s family feeds him scraps to keep him alive, but the nourishment he requires is not food, it is compassion, love and understanding. The family’s ritualistic breakfast of fresh hot rolls and coffee, slickly mimed by Morris, Green and Patel, is tidy at first but as the larder empties their desperation grows, and so does the rigour and aggression with which they devour their morning meal.

Our people are hungry. And those doing the hard work are not sharing in the fruits and bounty. Where there is a breadwinner, the pressure hangs heavy on them to supply for as many as possible. And although Gregor is not a child, he is the child as provider… in South Africa child-headed households are scarily not uncommon. What dreadful world is this?

Kafka’s matter of fact style when describing the horrific events of the story, is turned on its segmented back in this Metamorphosis. Here, the words spoken are heightened, disjointed, squealed, hurried, repeated. The cast misses not a beat, rhythmically driving us with them towards Gregor’s inevitable fate.

William Harding as Gregor (what a role!) has such an expressive face and we notice each eyebrow lift and spasmic twitch with feeling as he, the transforming creature, deals with his daily progression towards a disconnected life. Or is it his reconnecting with a true self we’re witnessing?

“Loathsome and disgusting” to his family… but within his transformed self, he softly says, “I feel so light”.

But Gregor is not the only one who is changing.

The transformation of Ameera Patel’s Grete lingers hauntingly… at first, she’s innocent with her ribboned pigtails, girlish pitch, and affectionate displays. As life goes on, as her circumstances force her to harden, her empathy cools and her mercy disintegrates… until she’s unrecognisable from the playful girl we first meet.

Khutjo Green and Craig Morris play Mother and Father. What a twisted pair. To butcher Philip Larkin’s poetry for a sec, “They fuck you up, your mum and dad… But they were fucked up in their turn”. In small moments, like Father returning to work as a postman, or Mother’s maternal instinct to feed her ‘son’… when their vulnerabilities are exposed we might want to understand them. But their lust for a better life overrides their humanity.

In this Metamorphosis, both parents (and Grete) partake in the apple throwing incident which cripples Gregor. Their violent lashing out begins his demise. And we’re shown this in slow motion to allow it to sink in… their attack on him is because he’s disrupted the way of life to which they’ve become accustomed.

Mind whose sense of comfort you rattle. Mind whose mindset you tackle. Mind who you piss off.

Or, fuck the noise. Resist what the capitalism machine has indoctrinated us into believing is The Best Way of Living. Meta-morph. Become a butterfly. Or a dung beetle. Just feel light.

Metamorphosis is on tonight 29 June at 18.00 and tomorrow 30 June at 14.00. Click here for more details and bookings.

Director: Alby Michaels
Choreographer: Craig Morris
Cast: William Harding, Craig Morris, Khutjo Green & Ameera Patel
Company: UJ Arts & Culture
Full credits found at the link above.

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