Theatre reviews: Metamorphosis Unplugged | Who Killed My Father | Hello In There

In their ingenious take on Kafka’s Metamorphosis, Vanishing Point use the simplest of means to to bring us straight to the heart of one of the great classics of European literature, writes Joyce McMillan

Michael Marcus in Who Killed My Father at Tron Theatre, Glasgow PIC: Emily Macinnes
Michael Marcus in Who Killed My Father at Tron Theatre, Glasgow PIC: Emily Macinnes

Metamorphosis Unplugged, The Beacon, Greenock ****

Who Killed My Father, Tron Theatre, Glasgow ****

Hello In There, Oran Mor, Glasgow ****

Transformations and transitions were the topic of the hour, on Saturday night at the beautiful Beacon Arts Centre in Greenock. A mainly middle-aged audience was packing into the main theatre to see Menopause The Musical; and in the studio, a small crowd gathered at welcoming café tables – complete with free cake and whisky – to witness a much more tragic tale of transformation in Vanishing Point’s Metamorphosis Unplugged, a companion show to the company’s recent magnificent mainstage version of Kafka’s classic.

This version, though – designed for village hall touring around Scotland – offers a very different take on the story. Co-devised and directed by Joanna Bowman, it begins in a hall like the one in which we’re sitting, where two young cleaners – working for low hourly wages, and harried by their bullying boss Pam – are clearing up after a messy birthday party. Among the debris, one of them finds a copy of Metamorphosis; and her eye is immediately caught by the story’s opening page, in which even when transformed into a giant beetle, our hero Gregor – his family’s sole breadwinner – is still worrying about how his boss will react if he fails to get to work on time.

Once this kinship with Gregor is established, the two women can’t resist continuing to read his story, and even to act out the increasingly fraught interactions between Gregor and his despairing family; and in the end, they find themselves shocked by the story’s grim and tragic conclusion. “I really thought,” says one, “that Gregor was going to stick it to the man.” All of this is brilliantly conveyed by actors Fiona Wood and Daisy Ann Fletcher, who also co-devised the show; in a brief 50-minute masterpiece that uses only the simplest of means – the human voice and presence, storytelling, role-playing – to bring us straight to the radical and vivid heart of one of the great classics of European literature.

Who Killed My Father – produced by Edinburgh-based Surrogate Productions with Platform, Glasgow – is a one-hour monologue that shows the same kind of radical courage, as it confronts the role of rampant class inequality in destroying the life and health of the writer’s father.

Based on the book of the same name by French writer Edouard Louis, the monologue seems – in Michael Marcus’s thoughtful performance – to take a while to reach the climactic denunciation of the economic cruelty of political leaders that should perhaps be its starting point. In that moment, though, Louis’s J’accuse rings out with a terrible clarity that echoes down French history; and leaves us hungry for more politics, and with an even deeper understanding of how a brutal economic system first creates men like Louis’s father, and then destroys them.

Much gentler in style is last week’s Play, Pie and Pint drama by Cathy Forde, the latest addition to the vast recent canon of drama about the experience of dementia. Hello In There highlights two aspects of the illness, exploring the process by which couples dealing with dementia tend to become ever more isolated, and the power of music – in this case the songs of John Prine – to reconnect with those who may almost have lost their spoken language.

Douglas Russell, Annie Grace and George Drennan, directed by Joe Douglas, deliver beautiful performances in the role of dementia sufferer Paul, his wife Marie, and his best friend Don, who increasingly cannot cope; in a play that adds to sum of human understanding on this vital subject, and will perhaps leave some in the audience feeling a little less alone.

Metamorphosis Unplugged is on tour until 22 May, with remaining dates in Peebles, Galashiels, Castle Douglas and Creetown. Who Killed My Father and Hello In There – runs ended.