Theatre | Morphing Around

The Dublin Theatre Festival offers its patrons a chance to see something different, writes Kate Rothwell.Transferring any novella from paper to stage is no easy task, but when the text in question is Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, the bar is raised considerably higher.An unsettling story in which the main character awakes to find himself transformed into a insect-likecreature; it is not an obvious contender for stage adaptation.Yet the re-working of this early 20th century text by theatre companies, Lyric Hammersmith and Vesturport, has met remarkable success. The adaptation has already completed a sell-out tour in the UK and an international tour beginning at the Hong Kong Art Festival in February 2009.From the 29th September until the 4th October, the production will take place in the Olympia Theatre as part of this year’s Dublin Theatre Festival.Jonathan McGuinness, who plays both Herr Steil and Herr Fischer, explains the play’s universal appeal.“It has things that everybody can relate to - someone being an outsider and no one else understanding or being able to relate to them.” Another element that can be appreciated not only by the literati is the visual aspect, designed by Börkur Jonsson.“He has done this brilliant thing of turning the top room, the bedroom that the beetle is in, on its axis so that the floor is the wall, and he’s climbing around up there. The stage has two levels- downstairs is normal and orderly and upstairs is a world that you recognise but it’s slightly off-kilter, it’s been twisted.”One addition that Kafka couldn’t have forseen is backing music from Nick Cave and Warren Ellis (of The Bad Seeds fame).“Nick Cave did the music for Woyzeck (play by Georg Buchner) because he was a fan of it, and then Gislí (artistic director of Vesturport) and he got on really well, so when Metamorphosis came up he was up for doing that,” McGuinness explains.“Warren Ellis was in rehearsals a lot; they’d go away and play with ideas and record. We did tons of improvisation, used music in different places, getting odd moments in the play and expanding them.”Those who have read the play may be surprised by how the appearance of main character Gregor is treated – or not treated. “He doesn’t change at all, just the way other people treat him changes. We don’t specify and we don’t give him a weird costume. Hopefully what we’re doing is letting the audience bring their imaginations to it.”Kafka’s work comes laden with grim preconceptions, but these myths are something that McGuinness dispels. “Lots of people have this idea of Kafka that it’s all really dark and depressing… it’s still got that in it, but we tried to play against it.”McGuinness has taken part in the Dublin Theatre Festival previously and so is aware of the variety of shows on offer. “There’s always really good, select stuff. I know Black Watch is going to be there, which I’ve already seen and is brilliant.”Black Watch, a play based on the experiences of soldiers who served in Iraq, is one of the most talked about productions of the festival.Another highlight is The Year of Magical Thinking, which documents Joan Didion’s memoir of the times following her husband’s sudden death.Musical tastes are also catered for. The Magic Flute has received rave reviews for its take on Mozart’s classic opera, relocating it to the climes of South Africa. But the festival is not all about large scale shows; there is something to suit all theatrical tastes and budgets alike.See for more details.