The Metamorphosis

Tron Theatre, Glasgow

Neil Cooper

Five stars

Franz Kafka’s story about a young man called Gregor Samsa, who wakes up one morning to find himself transformed into a giant insect, could have been tailor-made for Vanishing Point. Under the guidance of director Matthew Lenton, the company’s penchant for dark visual poetry is at a premium in this new theatricalisation of Kafka’s tale.

Lenton and his team have turned Gregor’s existential drudgery into an exquisitely realised portrait of what happens when you push someone into a corner enough to dehumanise them from a system they can no longer bear. While it stays true to Kafka’s original, it’s the fear and loathing of those around Gregor that counts.

As scripted by Lenton with the company, the play has Gregor a slave to the gig economy, whose self-isolation in his bedroom sees him change overnight. This is no sulky teen painting their walls black, but a cry from the dark that no-one around him understands. As his life goes into lockdown, Gregor’s room becomes a cage, and he a prisoner, with his family forced to serve the wealthy while he goes cold turkey, scrambling around for scraps in the dirt.

In a co-production with the Tron and Italian partners, Emilia Romagna Teatro Fondazione, having Gregor played by two actors, Sam Stopford and Nico Guerzoni, is a stroke of genius. Cowering on Kenneth MacLeod’s stark but sleek set illuminated by slashes of Simon Wilkinson’s lighting design, Guerzoni speaks in Italian, while his uncomprehending family stick with their own kind, their uniforms giving them the misplaced authority of guards. With Mark Melville’s brooding electronic underscore ramping up the intensity, this brings home the everyday hysteria that exists in a Brexit-scarred, Covid-19 consumed landscape where the likes of Gregor are treated as animals or aliens.

Wearing increasingly filthy pyjamas, Guerzoni resembles an inmate in Belsen, Guantanamo or any migrant holding station right here on our doorstep. This makes for a searing and devastatingly realised meditation on what it means to be a foreign body in an increasingly terrified world.