A number of presentations in this month’s London International Mime Festival (such as the diverting Leo and the compellingly inventive Plan B) play games with our sense of perspective by staging physical work at 90 degrees to our usual set of dimensions. It is a propitious time, then, to compare a piece in which this technique is deployed to a particular theatrical goal rather than as an end in itself. David Farr and Gísli Örn Gardarsson’s adaptation of Franz Kafka’s short story was first staged in London in 2006 and is now revived to (belatedly) commemorate the centenary of the story’s composition in 1912.
In Farr and Gardarsson’s staging, directly above the living room of the Samsa family apartment is Gregor’s room, but set at right angles to our normal geometry: we first see Gregor in a vertical bed, before he scuttles across his floor/our wall. This is the core of Gardarsson’s portrayal of Gregor’s transformation into an enormous insect: he does not attempt to carry himself in a supposedly insect manner, rather he negotiates the space in unfamiliar ways and at odd angles, as if having to re-learn how to move at all.
On the production’s première, I had found it odd that this version not only jettisoned Kafka’s famous opening line, but that it at no point made explicit the nature of Gregor’s change. On re-watching, I realise that this non-specificity serves both to emphasise the family’s responses over the nature of Gregor’s own privations, and also to enact the character of those responses, which are alternately denial and ignorant hostility. Particularly poignant is the draining away of the sympathy initially felt by Gregor’s younger sister Greta (played by Gardarsson’s wife Nina Dögg Filippusdóttir), while his father (Ingvar E. Sigurdsson) increasingly adopts the rigid status-consciousness of Germanic society of the time, and his mother (Kelly Hunter) seems gradually to flake away.
The adapters have emphasised the parabolic nature of the story, and in particular its socio-political dimension, without being so crass as to turn it into, say, an analogy for a country ignoring the reality of its problems in favour of extremism. The coda, when Nick Cave and Warren Ellis’s loop-based score breaks into a quiet rhapsody as the family relax above Gregor’s dangling, dead body, is heartbreaking.