Sunday 30 March 2008

NSDF 08 reviews - Metamorphosis

You don't so much enter York University's Metamorphosis as get bodily dragged in. A gaggle of grotesques in whiteface clutch at your, take your coat , thrust you into a different one and drag you into the theatre space, which has been transformed from an end-on, black box studio into an impressionist vision of a seedy crumbling living room, with peeling wallpaper and raised playing areas suggesting different rooms. The grotesques swarm about the audience, prodding, petting, and generally interfering with them. The lights dim and James Wilkes's Gregor Samsa sets the scene. His delivery is commendably un-Berkhovian; more RSC with Welsh-lilt than astringent cockney.

Something is definitely afoot here. There is very little here redolent of Students Doing Berkoff, instead the audience is thrust into a nominally interactive scenario – frequently beckoned to and whispered at by the group of urchins who squat at the peripheries of the action. The central cast acquit themselves admirably, offering some of the week's finest performances so far. Belt Up Productions have stumbled across a very exciting way of staging an extant text. This isn't actually an interactive experience per se. Or rather, it is a one-way exchange; the cast are free to molest the audience at will, but there is no real room for the audience to interrupt the main action of the stage. However the effect of the interventions is to electrify the atmosphere in the room. It is commonplace to note that while cinema audiences are passive, theatre audiences are active viewers; Belt Up's approach takes that attention to a whole new level.

That said, there is an issue with the company's demands on audience complicity. After some pretty full-on haranguing of random punters, at one point, one of the grotesques, stepping into the role of a family of lodgers in the Samsa household, basically dry-humps a girl selected at random from the audience. It is an uncomfortable moment, and one which I'm not sure the company has fully thought through. That said, this discomfiture aside, the genuine edginess of the overall experience is quite something. Belt Up urgently need to look at the contract with their audience, but in the mean time, for achieving the freshest imaginable production of this extant Metamorphosis they deserve a good deal of praise.

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