You know Kafka's Metamorphosis, of course; the tale of a man called Gregor, who wakes up one morning to find he's become an insect. But do you really know the story? What about the other characters – do you know anything of their lives? This clever, free-handed, but ultimately faithful adaptation is narrated by Gregor's sister Grete… drawing parallels with her own metamorphosis from girl into woman, and offering an interesting interpretation of Gregor's transformation as well.
In this solo performance, Heather-Rose Andrews appears as an adult Grete – but her maturity soon switches to childishness as she recalls conversations from her past. It's a crisp and striking transition, which emphasises one of this play's main themes: how different it is to be a girl and a woman, and how confusing and even shaming the changes of puberty can be. Sexually frank, but never gratuitous, Andrews' convincing portrayal illuminates topics of universal relevance, as well as offering an interesting adjunct to Kafka's male-dominated novella.
And playwright Sam Chittenden goes still further than that, developing a fully-fledged back-story for the whole of Grete's household. The family dynamics are painful, but all too recognisable: dad hides behind his newspaper, mum keeps up appearances, yet the rot in their relationships was seeded years ago. And when three lodgers arrive in the house – an event drawn from Kafka's original text – you sense that things won't get any better.
While Grete is the focus of the story, it isn't exclusively hers. Chittenden builds an interesting, thought-provoking back-story for Gregor too; a melancholy man, who prefers to be unhappy, his transformation becomes a metaphor for withdrawal from society. His insect shell is an armour against the people who hurt him, a type of psychological shield. Again, this is a sympathetic embellishment of Kafka's original, which dovetails perfectly with the depressing but believable history that Chittenden has created.
Towards the end, however, she cracks open one further, massive topic – which, though it's been lightly foreshadowed, feels a little too much like an afterthought to me. While nobody would doubt its importance, it doesn't tie in all that closely to what's gone before, and it belongs in a different time period to the rest of the plot. Most importantly, there isn't room in an hour-long production to give it the emphasis it deserves; better, I think, to leave it aside, than to approach it quite so fleetingly.
The constant, repetitive music grows a little distracting, but other patterns are welcome and comforting: Kafka's famous first line, about waking from troubled dreams, comes back again and again with a slightly different meaning each time. All in all, this version of Metamorphosis is well-conceived, well-constructed, and finely-performed – a worthy counterpoint to an iconic story.