When the two legged morphs into the six legged in your mind’s eye to almost become a visual reality on stage, because it is “bederf” (spoilt), “besmet” (infected) by the dementia that crawls around in the morphee’s head, you know you are seeing Willem Anker’s conceptualisation of Kafka’s The Metamorphosis being given the artistic breath of life in Samsa-Masjien by the visionary that is director Jaco Bouwer.
As you sit hypnotised by the noises and suggestions that Pierre-Henri Wicomb weaved into insect “music”, you can almost swear you too felt the crawling of insects on your skin along with Gregor Samsa, the man driving the movement. The “Samsa-masjien” becomes the “geraas masjien” (noise maker) and so brings a delightfully surprising additional layer through sound. It elevates the play to both a mental and a physical experience through an assaults on the senses. It makes you the recipient of a theatrical out of body experience. You feel yourself both removed and immersed, all at once, in the lives of the characters who (literally and figuratively) lay themselves bare on stage as they struggle to come to terms with the past and the future of a father who finds himself in that which he is losing… his mind.
Samsa-Masjien should not make sense, logic tells you chaos should overpower, but in this case logic is defied by theatre that uses chaos to give structure. Saying it is brilliant almost seems like an insult, it is so much more … Bouwer takes that which can so easily turn into kitsch or common and makes it exquisite, complex and refined.
The text is art in itself … “Woorde raak klanke, raak bugs”. The sense in the senseless will leave you staring blankly as you try and soak up every word. Pair that with the amazing set, a pristine almost pretentious snow white upper level covering up the secrets and (in)sanity in the dark basement dirt of the past revealed through the mind of a man morphing into an insect. The insect “eating” him from the inside, I personally thought could also be symbolic of his inner child breaking free …? But a Kafka expert I am not, so that is but my gut reaction to what I experienced at so many levels.
Although there is no denying that Gerben Kamper does his role as Gregor more than justice, the power house of this production is undeniably Antionette Kellerman! Playing the role of his supportive (maybe rather enabling) wife, Josephine, you are never sure whether she fakes or truly embraces the blurred lines between reality and surrealism. She keeps you guessing until the very end.
The duo of Ilana Cilliers and Ludwig Binge also deserves acknowledgment for holding their own, as daughter Grete and son-in-law Tjaart, standing opposite such stage legends as Kellerman and Kamper and complimenting them perfectly.
I doubt my words do justice to Samsa-Masjien. Saying it is multi-layered and even more feels like a kid trying to show someone Van Gogh’s visionary image with but a crayon scribbled drawing. So I am rather going to appeal to those who always declare they are in search of good theatre to book now at Computicket and experience great theatre at the Baxter Theatre before this play morphs into only our memories when the run ends 31 January.
Scene It by Barbara Loots.