‘Metamorphosis’ at the Royal Alexandra Theatre, Toronto, Canada

Metamorphosis-Logo copymarcels 056

Three of us from Trek and Run – myself, Lamia and Ksenia – saw this show, which has just a week left to run here in Toronto. Here are a few of our thoughts, with more in-depth reviews following below…

“The script was faithful to the standard interpretation of Kafka’s work…but would you understand it if you hadn’t read or studied the book? I’d say yes, absolutely. The themes of betrayal, of shallow loves and friendships and vulgarians blinded by money, status and loud words are ones that all but the most privileged of us have experienced, and can easily comprehend.”

“Friends of mine have dismissed this version of the play. They said they saw Steven Berkoff’s version years ago and never wished to soil the memory by seeing anybody else’s take on it. They’re wrong, I tell them! Berkoff may well have produced a masterpiece but as long as humans live there will never be a world where Kafka is not relevant, powerful and entertaining and there will never be a version of the play that doesn’t carry some of Kafka’s genius with it. This version, by British playwright and director David Farr and actor/director Gisli Örn Gardarsson and with a brilliant soundtrack by Nick Cave, doesn’t disappoint. See it if you can. ”

“The final act was executed into such a meaningful and terrifyingly vivid performance that it haunted me for days after. Leaving the theater I felt temporarily unable to express any feelings regarding the play for the power, relevance and fragility of what I had witnessed that night should not, and indeed could not, I believed at that moment, be bothered by my opinion.”

marcels 057

I realize that many readers won’t be from Toronto so won’t catch the final week of this play’s run but may be in town in the future and want to take in a show here, so we’ll talk a little about the experience of visiting the theater as well as the play itself.

We rushed into the theater, made late by lingering too long over the meal we enjoyed at Marcel’s, a French place nestled nearby among the row of eateries that serve the pre-show rushes in this area (there are 2 theaters and a cinema within a few hundred meters here) and we thought we were certain to miss the opening curtain. How could we not – my watch read 7.59 as we entered the building and curtain was at 8! Yet, the ushers were no doubt used to such lateness (unsurprising, the dessert at Marcel’s was impossible to rush, and I’m sure we weren’t the first to think so…). Tickets were checked and we were handed programs and shown to our seats quickly – maybe there was a coat check but we didn’t have time for that and anyway, there was room at our feet to store bag and coats.

The stage set was imaginative; a single house with the upper and lower floors shown.

Bjorn_and_Tom_Mannion_as_Gregor_and_Father

Björn Thors as Gregor and Tom Mannion as Herman. Photo Credit © Simon Kane

The ground floor is shown traditional view, side on, as is the staircase and the landing. Only when you looked at Gregor’s upper floor room is there a difference, here you are looking at the scene from above. The back wall of the set, as you look at it, is the floor. The window is on the roof, through which at one moment at the pinnacle of Gregor’s despondency rain pours through, and the bed is upright, like a white sheeted grave. This is the view we had. 

Bjorn_Thors_as_Gregor_in_Bed_1

Björn Thors as Gregor. Photo Credit © Simon Kane

Apart from giving you an unusual view, perhaps putting you in the position of an insect on the ceiling yourself (asking of you one of the central questions posed by the text; who is the insect, the parasite? Gregor, who despite his insect body never looses his innocent, unconditional love for his family, or the family, who retain their human forms but act in a savage, brutal manner we’d usually associate with non-humans) it also allows Gregor to present himself as an insect, crawling around the walls. I admired the actors strength, much of the time he was lying on the set’s floor, or sat on it, which meant that in reality he was horizontal with the audience, the top of his head facing us, holding himself in position with a show of great strength and balance. To interpret convincingly the transformation from human to insect (or an ‘inedible/unclean creature’ as Kafka called it) without the use of either costume or make up, just physical strength, was a great triumph for Björn Thors, who plays Gregor.

Gregor_on_the_wall

Björn Thors as Gregor. Photo Credit © Simon Kane

The script was faithful to the standard interpretation of Kafka’s work; read Nabakov’s lecture on the book and you have much of the screenplay direction, which is no bad thing at all. But would you understand it if you hadn’t read the book? I’d say yes, absolutely. The theme of betrayal, of shallow loves and friendships and vulgarians blinded by money, status and loud words are ones that all but the most privileged of us has experienced and can comprehend. At points the families actions were almost hammy, although then I realized I was looking in a mirror of sorts and that this was intentional – art is the lie that shows us the truth, no? Well, something like that, and who in the audience didn’t see a little bit of themselves in the proud ignorance of the father, the self pity of mother and the self obsession of the daughter and sister? I’d wager, not a single person. The silences that accompanied the characters’ obscene outbursts attested to that, as did the nervous laughter that greeted the comical breaks; a joyous form of coping strategy which got freer as the play progressed and the sadness deepened.

For whenever you laughed your eyes were forced up, to Gregor on the upper floor, often motionless in his starvation and suffering, bathed in blue light (a great use of colour to convey emotion here, not witnessed by myself since I watched that superb Polish work ‘Dekalog’). His plight is desperately sad, and the subtle use of lighting makes sure you never forget it.

Friends of mine have dismissed this version of the play. They said they saw Steven Berkoff’s version years ago and never wished to soil the memory by seeing anybody else’s take on it. They’re wrong, I tell them. Berkoff may well have produced a masterpiece but as long as humans live there will never be a world where Kafka is not relevant, powerful and entertaining and there will never be a version of the play that doesn’t carry some of Kafka’s genius with it. This interpretation, by British playwright and director David Farr and actor/director Gisli Örn Gardarsson and with a brilliant soundtrack by Nick Cave, doesn’t disappoint. See it if you can.

Metamorphosis at the Sydney Theatre

Unnur Ösp Stefánsdóttir as Greta and Björn Thors as Gregor. Photo Credit © Simon Kane

Ksenia Says “As I entered the theater I was infused by that long forgotten atmosphere of mystery that I associate with a now seemingly outdated art form. The scent of wooden furniture and alcohol at the bar, the shining of chandeliers and the greetings of friendly courtiers all brought the magic of this place to life yet again; it’s been years since I visited a show like this, it was wonderful to be back.

I wasn’t sure what to expect of the performance as I’d read no reviews at all. One thing I was aware of – as goosebumps went down my spine (baby, it was cold outside. Minus 27, pretty chilly even for a Toronto winter) – the protected world I have created for myself with such precision and care felt shaky in my anticipation. The heavy doors of wood and glass that guarded the auditorium represented, I felt, an invisible line that separated reality from illusion, fake smiles from genuine tears, suppressed feelings from feared human emotions. I was about to go through a process of transformation; I was about to experience Metamorphosis.

Never underestimate the power of live performance. It can help you laugh and cry and also, unlike much of what’s on TV, can force you to think. Metamorphosis did exactly that for me. The music score by Nick Cave that played in the background of the play kept me on my toes throughout the entire performance. If it wasn’t for the soft velvet seats I would probably have had a tough time remaining in my place. The set design was haunting, and alarming. Every single detail and object had a meaning and would eventually be put to use (often for actors to either climb or hang on it). The acting was brilliant, at times seemingly neurotic and absurd but always interesting and captivating.

There was never a moment to feel calm or bored. The final act, also the finale for Gregor, was executed into such a meaningful and terrifyingly vivid performance that it had haunted me for days after. Leaving the theater I felt temporarily unable to express any feelings regarding the play for the power, relevance and fragility of what I had witnessed that night should not, I believed at that moment, be bothered by my opinion. What happened behind those doors was a glimpse at the insanity of our existence, a moment of revelation, a dusty chuckle of an old man triggered by the absurdity of human life.”

Gregor_Samsa_shouting_at_father

Björn Thors as Gregor and Tom Mannion as Herman. Photo Credit © Simon Kane

Lamia Says – “The Royal Alexandra Theater is in a central area of downtown Toronto; an easy walk from St. Andrew Station if you’re using public transit or a scenic stroll if you’re walking down any major roads like King St. or University Avenue. It’s  near other major theater venues and the TIFF Bell LightBox (the center of the Toronto International Film Festival) is about five minutes west, as are a good number of excellent restaurants. It’s definitely the place to be if you’re after some evening entertainment.

The theater is beautiful looking on the outside with it’s 50’s style light-bulb lit marquee that add the sparkle and glitz you might associate with such a place. Inside the building is beautifully decorated in reds and golds. 

I had little prior knowledge about Metamorphosis; I’ve always been telling myself to read the book by Franz Kafka but have never managed it. I’m not a regular theatergoer either. I think that’s mainly down to the fact that I’ve always been taken to second rate plays that were either university productions of Shakespeare plays or a “cookie-cutter” type play with a very educational message at the end and therefore it’s always been a tad bit boring. With Metamorphosis, however, I was really quite excited to see it. It’s co-written by Icelandic actor, producer and writer Gísli Örn Garðarsson, who’s acting I’ve admired from ‘Prince of Persia’! And the music is by Nick Cage and that was something to completely look forward to! To top it all of, the concept of man turning to insect (which was pretty much the only thing I knew about Metamorphosis) was fascinating and I was curious to see it portrayed in a play.

I was hooked from the first words. The set was so beautifully laid out with perfect touches of the time period the book was set in, 1915 Austria, although the dress style and some of the script (which could have been spoken by a shop manager in 1915, a Nazi in 1939 or a Gordon Gecko-inspired Broker anytime in recent years) was such that it defeated all efforts to pin it down. The lighting was particularly effective when we were shown a happy scene lit starkly going on ‘downstairs’ but the top floor, where Gregor Samsa was being starved and treated cruelly, was bathed by soft, blue light, so that sadness was always there and a constant reminder even through the comedy. I found that contrast really clever and so well thought out. The sound quality was fantastic, I could hear even the slightest whisper and scratch, even though we were sat 15 rows back.  Icelandic actor Björn Thors’s portrayal of Gregor Samsa was a delight – he was so acrobatic! The other actors and actresses also portrayed their characters really well and there wasn’t a moment I felt disillusioned that I’d chosen to attend that theater as opposed to a movie or some other form of entertainment.

Overall, the play Metamorphosis made for an amazing night of play watching and I would totally go and see it again if given the chance. I recommend it for anyone who might be new to theater going. I’d also say that the Royal Alexandra is a lovely venue and well worth checking out if you’re in town and there’s an interesting sounding play going on there.”

For more information on plays at the Royal Alexandra Theater, please see http://www.mirvish.com/

No comments yet.

Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.