Edinburgh Fringe 2010
Belt Up’s production of Metamorphosis at C Soco is a well-directed, well-acted piece of theatre that is full of energy and verve if a little rough around the edges. James Wilkes is the creative spirit behind this production having adapted, directed and playing the part of Gregor but the whole cast give striking performances and are a terrific ensemble to watch.
One of the wonders of theatre is that it can do anything and transport you anywhere with very little physical resources or props; there’s no need real steam trains to conjure up the Railway Children, for example. This is particularly evident here in Belt Up’s production of Metamorphosis. How do you stage a production of Kafka’s novel, Metamorphosis, where a man wakes up one morning to find that he has been transformed overnight into a beetle? Just watch and Belt Up will show you how.
When the audience arrive, we are ushered onto the various sofas and cushions that are scattered around the room; we are in the living room of the Samsa family and we are waiting for someone to arrive – it is Gregor Samsa’ s birthday and we are all part of a surprise birthday party that is waiting to happen.
Plunged into the heart of one of fiction’s most dysfunctional families from the start, when the cracks begin to appear we experience them all the more acutely. James Wilkes’ intelligent adaptation presents Gregor as the weary travelling salesman who is working to pull his family out of the debt his embittered father (Dominc J Allen) has created and to give his beloved sister, Greta (Veronica Hare), a chance at life, but who wakes up one morning to find himself trapped within the body of a dung beetle.
James Wilkes is a wonderful contorted beetle who climbs and crawls across his bedroom a bed mounted on scaffolding and set at an angle so that we have a disturbingly intimate view of his predicament. He moves like someone whose soul is trapped within an alien body. He speaks – words of sense and wisdom – but a chorus emits unearthly sounds over him so that his words go unheard by his family. Increasingly, as the play goes on he becomes a disembodied spectre cut off from his family and the world around him.
Belt Up has a very particular approach and a way of using the space that they have made particularly their own. Having the audience all around the players on cushions and sofas, and entering and re-entering this space themselves, as well as drawing the audience out of the fringes and into the centre of the action has become their trademark immersive theatre. And while this is what they do here, they play more with the parameters of that space than in other Belt Up productions I have seen. In Metamorphosis, the audience sits in the round but rather than the action being carried out in a seemingly random scatter-gun approach, this starts in the round with us all, actors and audience alike, part of the action, but then as the story unfolds and the divisions appear between the characters, the action increasingly takes place at two polar ends of the room with a central corridor opening up between them which the characters find it harder and harder to negotiate until ultimately the space echoes the story with communication and negotiation of space breaking down.
As well as being entertaining throughout, Belt Up’s Metamorphosis in bringing the novel to life before our eyes sheds new light on the themes of the novel. Gregor in his alienation and isolation trying to speak out in an increasingly senseless world is an everyman for the 21st century.