Friday, August 23, 2019


Metamorphosis, adapted by Steven Berkoff from the novella by Franz Kafka.  The Street Theatre Canberra, Street 2, August 17 – 31, 2019.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
August 22

A highly stylised, very stylish metaphorical Metamorphosis, this production in the studio Street Theatre 2 is just the kind of theatre I’d hope to see more often in our university town.

Through our development programs, The Street promotes the creation of high quality original performance work contributing towards a body of stage work encouraging debate on the social, economic, cultural and political relationships central to the reality of lives of Canberrans.

What I like especially about Adam Broinowski’s directing and Imogen Keen’s design is that they have achieved what Berkoff claims to aim at.  In Creating the "Berkovian" Aesthetic, Craig Rosen writes:

Berkoff aimed to convert what he saw as the bourgeois theatre of realism into a dynamic, presentational "total-theatre."  His concept of total-theatre fulfils his desire for a spiritual and psychological theatre which attempts to "illuminate" the text rather than "depict" it.  []

With cleverly shadowed lighting by Andrew Meadows and some often startling sound effects by Kimmo Vennonen, we are taken by the actors into an absurdist-expressionist acting-out of the family of Gregor Samsa unable to cope with the reality that their perfectly normal son wakes up one morning in the form of, according to his father, a “dung beetle”: a highly appropriate translation of Kafka’s German term ungeheures Ungeziefer, considering the importance of our local dung beetle program in reducing blow flies in summer.

Steven Berkoff trained in mime at the famous Jacques Lecoq theatre school in Paris, as did Christopher Samuel Carroll some 50 years later.  Carroll has clearly passed on his particular skills and style to add to the already excellent techniques of Ruth Pieloor and Stefanie Lekkas: Mr and Mrs Samsa are equally funny and horrifying, while their daughter Greta is self-sacrificing innocent sweetness until she metamorphoses into a grown-up, and must leave her brother to his fate.

'Metamorphosis' is one of those words which fascinate, say, a 12-year-old on first acquaintance, but there’s much more to its meaning than at first appears.  Changing bodily shape is the simple literal meaning, but ‘meta’ as in words like ‘metacognition’ take the ‘morph’ into somewhere beyond the ordinary.  Dylan Van Den Berg succeeds in turning what could easily be a simple, even comic, representation of changing into a “monstrous vermin” (the usual translation), into a figure of great sadness for us.

From the psychological point of vew, Gregor’s turning into an insect physically represents his response to the stress of being the hard-working son, in a toxic workplace environment, taking on the responsibility of supporting his ageing parents and younger sister.  I have known of a case where a man under such stress needed psychiatric treatment for psychosis because he doubted that his wife existed.

The “social, economic, cultural and political” debate arises as the story becomes metaphorical.  How do we cope with those who are ‘different’ – from people with disabilities, through those with different sexual identities, to those who just look different or have a different cultural background.  As his family leave the house he had worked so hard to pay for, and leave him to a completely unknown future – as the final light fades – Gregor seemed to me just like those refugees that we have left in limbo for so many years; that we have not known what to do with.

But those dung beetles have their proper role to play.  By burying cow dung they have reduced our blow fly infestation remarkably.  This production, especially through Keen’s design of costumes, make-up and set, and Broinowski’s imaginative direction, makes us think again.

Ruth Pieloor, Stefanie Lekkas and Christopher Samuel Carroll
as Mrs Samsa, Greta Samsa and Mr Samsa
Metamorphosis at The Street, Canberra 2019

Dylan Van Den Berg as Gregor Samsa
Metamorphosis at The Street, Canberra 2019
Photos by Shelly Higgs