This glittering account of Kafka's famous story - part comedy and part tragedy - of Gregor Samsa waking one morning to discover that he has turned into an insect, is the production’s third run at The Lyric and, although I hadn’t seen it in either of its earlier outings, it is easy to see why it has achieved so much popular acclaim. The acting is exquisitely good, the set is a masterpiece and the music extraordinarily evocative.
The dysfunctional Samsa family lives an exaggeratedly ‘normal’ life at stage level. In his first floor bedroom Gisli Örn Garṑarsson (who also co-directs with David Farr), as Gregor the insect, is climbing walls with calculatedly clumsy athleticism, hiding behind the plant and terrorising his mother, father and sister. Gregor speaks normally but his repulsed family can understand nothing he says and the confusion and panic is strongly reinforced by crescendos in music by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis. Börkur Jónsson’s set creates an ingenious optical illusion with the angle of floor to walls in Gregor’s bedroom so that he appears to be walking the ceiling as an anguished, angular insect.
Garṑarsson is a terrifically talented actor and athlete with fine circus skills. His feat at the end is as physically impressive as it is emotionally evocative. Ingvar E Siguroṑsson as Mr Samsa gives such an acute performance that he manages to squeeze physicality and humour out of sugaring his tea or bending over and his drunk scene is immaculately judged. Kelly Hunter makes an outstanding job of the brittle, manic, asthmatic Mrs Samsa and Nina Dögg Filippusdóttir is terrific to watch as she develops Gregor’s young sister Greta from a lighthearted school girl to a terrified adult who finally realises that only she can lead her frightened and misguided parents. Jonathan McGuinness plays three minor roles and is especially good as the self-important Herr Fischer who comes to the house as a lodger with an eye on Greta.
This is a play which deals with some pretty serious issues – the breakdown of the family and failure of family members to understand each other. In a sense Gregor is any alienated, misunderstood teenager. It is also extremely funny. McGuiness, Hunter and Siguroṑsson play off each other splendidly with impressively slick comic timing.
All in all this is a pretty remarkable and highly entertaining piece of theatre. One not to be missed.