FringeReview Scotland 2020
Gregor Samsa, a member of the gig economy goes to bed and wakes up, as a giant insect. His family are suitably upset by this and struggle through a variety of circumstances to find a way to cope with it all; Gregor himself does not cope well either. His boss, who is owed money by Gregor’s family arrives and is confronted with the reality of Gregor’s new circumstances; it does not end well. We then have a number of interactions with his family that through miscommunication sees misery piled on for both Gregor and those closest to him. Amongst the lack of understanding a number of scenes follow including where he tries to get them to clean his room and they think he likes the squalor; the attempt to write and fail; the loss of a creative future for his sister when he had saved to send her to the Conservatoire; the need to get employment as a family to feed themselves rather than depend upon Gregor; whilst the visitors who meet Gregor and do not really display much sensitivity but become the catalyst to his own family bringing in the exterminators. The problem for everyone is therefore “solved” finally…
Vanishing Point bring their usual flair for theatrical magnificence to this story as Gregor wakes up out of his own body and we get the insect and him onstage beyond the sleep. The insect becomes a foreign national who cannot communicate with his hosts. Played by Nico Guerzoni this is an inspired piece of casting and of adaptation. It makes the issue prescient and with the delivery economy upon which we so often rely the backdrop there is little denying that what we have is bang up to date.
The entire cast have given us nuance through director Mathew Lenton’s direction that slaps you with the truth. It has an ability through their interactions and especially the helplessness of the original Gregor played beautifully by Sam Stopford to go, you know what – pay attention.
Instead of trying to imagine the cockroach or fly or standard trope of horror we are now confronting the alien, the foreigner, the person we have decided to keep at our borders because we refuse to understand or struggle to find why we would ever want to make contact with. Acted beautifully and sympathetically this fits within the family that cannot get their head round things. They had a Gregor and now have a cockroach in the space of one night – what would we all do?
They confront things the way they can and in particular the touching sensitivity of the sister comes across very well indeed; Alana Jackson showing that even in 3rd year, the Royal Conservatoire can be relied upon to provide some pretty impressive actors.
The set has much to commend itself. It works fantastically well and gives a tremendous backdrop to the whole piece. I loved the moveable door, the bedroom upside down and above the stage, and the way that the screen suggested a video backdrop and turned into live action. It provided a distance between the foreground and the background to the piece that allowed our alienation to be precise whilst the message to be clear. The one criticism was the subtitles, being away up high meant that your focus was taken from the action if you wanted to understand what was going on – they were far too far apart from the live performance for me.
This was a 21st century adaptation that brought the view of Kafka to the stage in a way that made the adaptation much more of now and here. Beautifully lit, costumed and with a subtle soundscape I left feeling that I had enjoyed something of modern and “European” rather than insular and xenophobic; what joy in a black box. There was creativity at play here and we are, once again, thanks to Vanishing Point the richer for all of that – like we should be surprised at that!