GETTING TO KNOW: METAMORPHOSIS

“I cannot make you understand. I cannot make anyone understand what is happening inside me. I cannot even explain it to myself.”

Gregor is a broken man, exhausted by eternal work and an ungrateful family. Until one morning, he awakes, and is not a man at all. Inexplicably he has been transformed into a gigantic insect. His very ordinary family are in disarray. Feelings of revulsion turn to resentment with horrifying results.

In August 1969, Steven Berkoff masterfully adapted Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, putting on his one-man production at the Roundhouse in north London. He has said of Kafka’s novella “the story shook me when I read it and it has clung to me as has most of Kafka’s work.  I identified strongly with his dream-like stories and his acute perception of detail, detail that is not ordinary and programmed, the detail of life below the frustrations”.

Kafka’s bizarrely comic tale of alienation bursts onto the stage in this landmark adaptation by Steven Berkoff that gives theatre-goers a visceral and cerebral story telling exploring and questioning: man and the natural world; life, consciousness, and existence; Morality and Ethics; transformation; identity; isolation; family; and, society and class. In a viscous merger of dream and reality, this stark allegory remains a very real signature of our present moment – and is very frightening to realise.

STEVEN BERKOFF

Steven Berkoff was born in London in 1937. He studied Drama in London and Paris. He performed with repertory companies before forming the London Theatre Group (L.T.G.) in 1968. Their first professional production was In the Penal Colony, an adaptation of a short story by Kafka. Berkoff’s first original stage play East, was presented at the Edinburgh Festival in 1975.

Other original plays include West, Decadence, Greek, Kvetch, Acapulco, Harry’s Christmas, Lunch, Sink the Belgrano, Massage, Sturm und Drang, Brighton Beach Scumbags, The Secret Love Life of Ophelia, Bow of Ulysses, Ritual in Blood and Messiah.

Among the many adaptations Steven Berkoff has created for the stage are Kafka’s Metamorphosis and The Trial, Agamemnon (after Aeschylus) and Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher. His plays and adaptations have been performed in many countries and many languages.  He has also directed and toured productions of Hamlet, Macbeth and Oscar Wilde’s Salome.

Steven Berkoff has acted in films as diverse as A Clockwork Orange, Barry Lyndon, The Passenger, Octopussy, Beverly Hills Cop, Rambo, Under the Cherry Moon, Absolute Beginners and The Krays. He directed and co-starred with Joan Collins in the film version of Decadence.

He has published collections of short stories, production journals, travel writings, poetry and his autobiography Free Association.

FRANZ KAFKA AND THE METAMORPHOSIS

Franz Kafka (1883-1924) was a Czech-born German-language writer whose surreal fiction vividly expressed the anxiety alienation,  and powerlessness of the individual in the 20th century. Kafka’s work is characterized by nightmarish settings in which characters are crushed by nonsensical, blind authority. The word Kafkaesque, turned into an adjective of the writer’s name and first known to be used in 1939, is often applied to bizarre and impersonal administrative situations where the individual feels powerless to understand or control what is happening.

Published in 1912 in German, Kafka’s tale of a man who wakes to find he has changed into a giant insect still has the power to shock and thrill a century after it was first published. The Metamorphosis is a story in which a man suffers a terrible and inexplicable misfortune, is reduced to an abject and alien state, then is made to suffer doubly by the attitude of his supposed loved ones.

Readers all over the world continue to analyse his story of alienation including Kafka’s own background as a German speaker living in Czech Prague and a Jew living in anti-Semitic times and the pressure from his father to succeed in business.

The novella has been recreated, referenced, or parodied in various popular culture media and in film, print, stage and opera, music and radio. It is a story that remains as relevant today as when written in 1912.

Many regard it The Metamorphosis as the greatest short story in all literary fiction and remains in the top ten novellas of all time.

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