BATS Theatre, Wellington

09/07/2008 - 19/07/2008

Production Details

"As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams…he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect…"

Metamorphosis, a play by Steven Berkoff, premieres at BATS Theatre this July. It tells the story of Gregor, a salesman-turned-insect who is unable to communicate, his voice impossible, and his body monstrous. Gregor makes a desperate attempt to connect with his loved ones…with tragic consequences.

Metamorphosis is the inaugural production from EnsembleImpact, a new collaboration between Wellington’s finest theatre practitioners.

Director Jude Gibson comes to Metamorphosis full circle, after appearing in the original New Zealand production in 1983.

As Artistic Director, Gibson wanted to form a company dedicated to the growth and pursuit of excellence in theatre. "We wish to be part of a live conversation with our audience, to bring light into dark spaces, to transform and illuminate – as that, after all, is our job."

Metamorphosis features the acting talent of Simon Vincent (2003 Chapman Tripp Best Supporting Actor) who tackles the role of Gregor Samsa with support from ex-Shortland Street star Donogh Rees, Angela Green and Nick Dunbar , Craig Geenty , Salesi Le’ota and Francis Biggs.

The show features stunning design by Brian King (Niu Sila) and Ulli Briese  with original music by Murray Hickman (Strike). 

The powerful allegory from the tortured pen of Franz Kafka and adapted by theatre’s wild child Steven Berkoff, is a breath taking ride of startling imagery, physical prowess, pulsating rhythm and an emphatic soundscape.

BATS Theatre, 1 Kent Terrace, Wellington.
9 – 19 July 2008, 7.30pm.
Tickets on sale at BATS from May 04 802 4175

"Every man lives behind bars which he carries within him"
Franz Kafka

Gregor Samsa:  Simon Vincent
Mrs Samsa:  Donogh Rees
Mr Samsa:  Nick Dunbar        
Greta Samsa:  Angela Green
Chief Clerk/Lodger:  Craig Geenty
Lodger:  Francis Biggs
Lodger:  Salesi Le'ota

Set and Costume Design:  Brian King
Lighting Design/Operation:  Ulli Briese
Sound Design & Composition:  Murray Hickman
Publicity:  Brianne Kerr
Set Build:  Iain Cooper, John Hodgkins

Stool Design and Build:  Phil Halasz
Poster Design:  Richard Seyb, The Church
Poster Body Art:  Magdalena O'Connor
Poster Photography:  Kevin Hawkins 

1hr 15mins, no interval

Will move you

Review by Lynn Freeman 17th Jul 2008

Incessant pressure from work, from family, so many expectations, so little time, so much stress. It’s enough to make you turn into someone you don’t recognise. Or something.

Steven Berkoff has taken a Franz Kafka story and, almost miraculously given what happens, turned it into a stage play.

It’s a gutsy theatre company that takes it on, especially one with a shoestring budget. EnsembleImpact, under the direction of Jude Gibson, pull off this nightmarish non-naturalistic tale with verve and style.

Brian King’s angled scaffolding spiderweb set and Ulli Briese’s spooky lighting are complemented by Murray Hickman’s bone-chilling sound design.

Gregor carries the weight of his family’s needs and demands on his slim shoulders. He’s trapped as firmly as a fly in a web but it’s an insect he turns into as his humanity is squeezed out of him. Yet he still shows more humanity than his family who turn against him, a stranger in their midst, as they struggle to survive financially.

Gibson’s direction of this treacherous piece is right on the money. She has her white-faced, red-eyed cast move, and deliver their lines, with pinpoint accuracy in a style of expressionist performance we too rarely see in New Zealand.

Simon Vincent is nothing short of compelling as the tortured Gregor, in what is a physical and vocal test for any actor. His family – Donogh Rees, Nick Dunbar and Angela Green – are funny, disturbing, weird. Lodgers Francis Biggs, Craig Geenty and Salesi Le’ota have a short time on stage but make the most of it.

It’s a refreshing production when naturalist theatre rules, particularly New Zealand plays. While this style of play can be distancing, aka Brecht, this will move you.   
For more production details, click on the title at the top of this review. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News.  


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Change must be embraced

Review by Jackson Coe 14th Jul 2008

If you were to wake tomorrow and realise you were different to what you knew, how would you deal with it? And how would you expect the people around you, those closest to you and whom you love the most, to handle this change? This change could come from a range of forces – for instance, maybe your job changes how think or act. Metamorphosis deals with this theme of change in a very physical sense, where the central character wakes to find that he has become a bizarre beetle-like creature overnight. His family freak out and lock him in his room. Fuck, I would have too! But these actions raise some interesting questions about humanity – how do we handle change? [More]


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Kafka transformed into potent theatre

Review by Laurie Atkinson [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 14th Jul 2008

The new theatre company, EnsembleImpact, has kicked off with a dynamic production of Steven Berkhoff’s expressionistic and simplified version of Kafka’s famous 1915 short story about Gregor Samsa, a travelling salesman, who turns into a giant dung beetle.

The Bats stage is dominated by a set that follows Berkhoff’s demand of "a skeletal framework of steel scaffolding suggesting an abstract sculpture of a giant insect." There are no props except for Gregor’s bed at the centre of the metallic spider’s web that Brian King’s set resembles and in the family living room there are only three metal stools which his father, mother and sister use.

Everything is mimed and the characters, including Gregor’s boss and three prospective lodgers, are white-faced caricatures representing suffocating bourgeois rapacity, conformity and materialism, which are not exactly novel theatrical ideas, even for 1969 when it was first produced.

Admirers of Kafka may be upset by Berkhoff’s distortion of the original story, which was rooted in naturalism, which makes Gregor’s metamorphosis far more disturbing than a metamorphosis that takes place in an expressionistic world where anything can happen. However, the precision and theatricality of Jude Gibson’s faithful and compelling production, plus Simon Vincent’s commanding performance as Gregor, should silence most objections.

Vincent metamorphoses into a beetle with an alarming array of twitches, distorted movements of arms and legs contorted into seemingly impossible positions, and strange muted clicks and loud strangulated cries, which are sometimes assisted by Murray Hickman’s excellent sound effects. He peers down with mute horror on his family, and, at one point, he slides and scuttles into the living room, to their disgust, with creepy-crawly realism.

But far more important, he is able to make Gregor’s situation one that is emotionally powerful to the audience even though the Samsa parents (Donogh Rees and Nick Dunbar) are, despite his sister (Angela Green) who shows concern for his welfare, horrified and indifferent by what he has done to their financial well-being.

The new company certainly lives up to its name by being an ensemble and by making an impact with a bravura first production.


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Refreshing liberation from naturalism

Review by John Smythe 10th Jul 2008

In Kafka’s novella The Metamorphosis (1916), Gregor Samsa has become the sole income earner for his middleclass family: a supposedly frail father, timid mother and talented sister, Grete. He toils as a travelling salesman from before dawn until after dark to provide for a family he hardly ever sees. But he doesn’t complain. His greatest dream is to save enough to send his potentially great violinist sister to the Conservatorium.

Gregor’s metamorphosis into "a monstrous verminous bug" is a metaphor for what his life has become. But his sudden burst of self-awareness produces only fear, loathing, misunderstanding and misery in his family, who undergo metamorphoses of their own, getting menial jobs and taking in boarders to pay the rent. Mr Samsa suddenly has the strength to attack Gregor with a barrage of apples and even his sister turns on him, having no further expectations of his largesse.

In Kafka’s tale Gregor dies, which causes no grief in his family. They take the day off to stroll in the sun, breathe fresh air beyond the city and plan their future. The parents realise Grete has "blossomed … into a beautiful and voluptuous young woman" ripe for marriage and the final image is of her stretching "her young body."

Steven Berkoff’s 1969 stage adaptation, Metamorphosis, is a Marxist critique of bourgeois middleclass family values, exemplifying the revolutionary zeal of its time. We are told Gregor has metamorphosed into a dung beetle but while his physicality changes radically, he retains his human form and clothes [the body art in the poster pic is not used in performance], which adds weight to the notion that this is a state of mind. And because all the family narrate the story, it is a shared perception; all four – if not the whole society around them – are complicit in his status and predicament.

Gregor is a clock salesman, allowing much to be made – theatrically – of the clockwork nature of their lives. And in the end he doesn’t die but leaves home, "Free!" While his wide-eyed repetition of the magic word "free" seems rather twee in 2008, it was the battle cry of every liberation movement in 1960s and 70s. He has, in effect, dropped out of The System.

Steven Berkoff originated the role in 1969. A decade later Paul Minifie directed a Theatre Corporate production (which played at Downstage in 1980) with Kelly Johnson as Gregor and Judy Gibson as Greta. Now, Jude Gibson directs it as the inauguaral production of the newly formed EnsembleImpact company (of which she is artistic director).

Simon Vincent is vocally and physically superb as Gregor, making designer Brian King’s ‘infinity tunnel’ of scaffolding his natural habitat as he climbs, slides, hangs, scampers … Flipped on his back on the floor, his helpless paddling of the air is simultaneously agonising and impressive. He completely inhabits the role, demanding our empathy no matter how monstrous he becomes.

The whole ensemble appears in white-face, bringing a grotesque clowning style to the characterisations. Donogh Rees (Mrs Samsa) and Angela Green (Greta) excel in their roles, skilfully marking their progress from caring through a range of emotions to dispassion. Nick Dunbar is physically good as Mr Sama but something about his vocalisation misses the mark for me (it’s the same ‘upper crust’ accent he used as a British Officer in King and Country, laced with too many wrong vowels to be convincing).

Craig Geenty is impressively overbearing as the Chief Clerk (perhaps demonstrating more than ‘being’ him on opening night), then joins Francis Biggs and Salesi Le’ota to create a splendidly boorish trio of Lodgers.

Highly stylised performances like this need to be totally committed and rooted in truth to come off and EnsembleImpact largely delivers on that score, abetted by Ulli Briese’s shafted lighting and Murray Hickman’s bold sound design and composition. The live reverberations of Gregor’s anguished cries are brilliant and perfectly times, as are other effects (Ulli Briese operating). Three metal stools with beetle carapace tops and ribbed reinforcing rod legs, designed and made by Phil Halasz, complete the visual picture, with other props being mimed.

While Berkoff’s Metamorphosis does not exactly capture the zeitgeist of this age (do we have one?), as it did of forty-odd years ago, it will resonate with anyone feeling constrained by their home or work circumstances. And it certainly liberates this ensemble from the constraints of naturalism, which is refreshing in itself.


Michael Wray July 12th, 2008

I thought Gregor died at the end of play too. Perhaps knowing the original story blocked any other interpretation of the play's ending. In contrast, Sharon didn't think he'd died. Relevance? It could be a generation thing. For me, I found stories like Metamorphosis and The Trial incredibly relevant when I was in my teens and early 20s. A couple of decades later, feeling more in control of what happens to me, that empathy is not so strong. Very impressed with Simon Vincent. I always am, but he was particularly good in Metamorphosis. Was the bandage on his left wrist evidence of a rehearsal mishap on those bars?

John Smythe July 12th, 2008

(Following further offline discussion) Gregor’s line, “My aching body seems glad to release the life that keeps it bound in agony, the will to keep it is weakening and Gregor is flying out” does seem to suggest death, of his damaged bug body at least. But if we see that status as a state of mind, it could mean the ‘real’ Gregor is flying out’ of the prison he had allowed himself to be condemned to, towards a new life of individuality and ‘freedom’. And, from the social revolutionary perspective of the late 1960s especially, that final scene, with the parents drooling over Greta’s ripeness for marriage, should ring warning bells for her: a metamorphosis into subjugated wife and mother … This is consistent with the play’s demonization of the bourgeois middleclass family unit. Hmmm … Sequel, anyone?

John Smythe July 12th, 2008

A friend who saw Metamorphosis with me thought Gregor had died in the end. My assertion, that “in the end he doesn't die but leaves home, "Free!" may therefore say more about my rampant optimism than what is ‘true’ of the play. What do others think? Is it purposely ambiguous - and if so, is that good? - or did I get it wrong? While we’re about it, what do people actually get from the play (let alone the original story) by way of social commentary? Is it relevant to us now or a more of a museum piece with the prime virtue of allowing actors to broaden their performance styles?

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