Last week I attended at performance of Metamorphosis at the Royal Alexandra Theatre here in Toronto. This production premiered in 2006 in London. It was adapted for the stage from Kafka’s novel by an innovative Icelandic company called Vesturport, and this is the first mounting of the production in Canada. The big draw for me was the fact that this production is scored by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, of the Bad Seeds/Grinderman.The play itself was at times intense, moving, dark, and funny. The story and its powerful allegory lend itself well to a stage production, highlighting the confined setting and the immediacy of Kafka’s story. The staging itself was innovative, utilizing a two-tier stage to convey Gregor Samsa’s increasing physical and emotional alienation from the rest his family.
Cave and Ellis’ score was perfectly suited for this material. The intersection of humour and tragedy is something that these composers are well versed in, and as such they created simply evocative sound to accompany the highs and lows of the story. Pizzicato interludes, haunting synth drones, watery sounds, splintering wood, scratching noises, Hermann-esque strings, and miniature violin sonatas all found their way into the soundtrack. It was so subtle that at times you forgot that there was music; this is truly the mark of great scoring. During the cathartic and heartbreaking final scene, there’s an actual complete song. Cave’s voice emerges from the haze with one of those beautiful understated piano and string ballads that he can create in his sleep.
It was a wonderful and moving theater experience, and one that will haunt you for days. Go see it if you can.