Play as a whole
Steven Berkoff wrote Metamorphosis in the late 1960’s. The play is about the dehumanizing effect of becoming part of a “machine” of an industrialized society. That living to work is vastly negative for human beings, and that as humans we need some sort of emotional or cultural richness or our lives are worthless and no better than an insect. This ties in well with the growing counter culture of the 1960’s. In which the old social orders were being changed –Hippy culture, Rock music, social revolutions in terms of black, women’s and gay rights, innovation and experimentation in music and the arts and what was “socially acceptable” had begun to destabilize the old social order. Berkoff makes Gregor Samsa a metaphor for what happens to someone who lives only to work. The character Gregor lives to work and this makes him feel as worthless and insignificant as an insect that he ultimately becomes one physically. The play was adapted from a short story by Frank Kafka. The play is not set in the 60s, the time period is unspecified but be inferring it to be set in the first half of the 20th century, most likely between the two world wars.
The main themes of the play: the importance of creativity and freedom of expression, the dangers of replacing emotional bonds with financial ones, and basically that that personal happiness and fulfillment is more important than wealth. The social changes of the 1960’s were sweeping away old traditions of thinking and behaving. The generation of young people who had come of age and had been born after WW2 had begun to challenge the social order. In the 50’s and 60’s for the first time young people had far more money, were better educated and had higher social aspirations that at any time previously. Many people’s prospects were being broadened by new experiences, education, ways of living and shifts in morality. People started to become independent in that they would make their own choices on what they would do with their life instead of following the same path their family had. Metamorphosis challenges this as Gregor follows the same path as his father. Jacques Le Coq and the interest in the work of Antonin Artaud and Jerzy Grotowski informed Berkoff’s acting style, being very stylized, heightened, physical characterization. The family in Metamorphosis is almost represented as being parts of a machine so they would have a very stylized, mechanical quality to their movement. There are many cultural and theatrical influences on the development of Metamorphosis as a play and on the performance aesthetic. In addition to the influences in terms of physical skill of Jacques Le Coq and Antonin Artaud theatrically through the 60’s there had begun an increasing trend in using the technique of Agitational Propaganda (Agit Prop) Theatre. Agit Prop was a style of performance developed to use theatre as a way of providing social change. The work was often political, usually Socialist in viewpoint and sought to change and radicalize the view of the audience and general public.
Berkoff himself was a theatre practitioner who developed his own stylized physical style of the “Theatre of the Groteque” which presents a heightened version of reality often heavily featuring mime and physical theatre. For example, in Metamorphosis the family uses physical theatre at the beginning of the play where they form into a beetle and mime is used for the family. Exagerrated mime, clipped exaggerated and overly enunciated vocal work are all the majority of features and characteristics common to the “Theatre of the Grotesque”. The “Theatre of Cruelty” would of influenced Berkoff. Antonin Artaud created “Theatre of Cruelty”. He sought to create theatre, which was compelling, powerful and striking visually. Berkoff also took the idea of abstract disjointed dream like nature. Plays did not have a direct linear or chronological narrative. Jerzy...