“far more poignant and interrogative than it gives itself credit for”
It isn’t uncommon for shows to oversell themselves – bellowing about their meaning, message, and how important their work is, while actually being somewhat hollow. Strangely, Harrie Dobby’s The Gap undersells itself; its marketing brands it as a comedy, and while it certainly delivers on laughs, it’s also far more poignant and interrogative than it gives itself credit for.
The play centres on Lisa and Dave, whose paths intersect as they are backpacking around the world; they fall in love with each other, as well as the lifestyle, and find their ambitions and dreams challenged as the obligations and commitments of normal life start taking over. Dobby’s script is brimming with snappy dialogue and a blitzing pace that still gives sufficient attention to character moments. The comedy gleams especially bright when poking fun at the situations the characters find themselves in instead of relying on gags, and the whole cast does a magnificent job of wringing the humour out of every moment.
This is in no doubt also thanks to the direction – also provided by Dobby – as well as the minimalistic design by Ellena Dobby that gives the cast the space to feel unencumbered. Small visual cues help to provide context to scenes though, such as a confederacy flag draped on a chair in a scene where Lisa introduces her mother to Dave. This scene in particular brings out the more serious side of the play; the titular gap covers a number of divides that are explored, be they social, cultural, generational, or aspirational. In doing this, it elevates the comedy by underpinning it with relevant and thoughtful themes, but The Gap also knows when to let the drama take centre-stage.
Rafiq Richard and Lydia Orange deliver stellar performances as Dave and Lisa, sporting excellent chemistry and a fiery rapport. The supporting cast are also superb, with Rob Pomfret especially bringing a blistering energy to his role as Sean, that kept the audience thoroughly mesmerised. It was a shame that the supporting characters only appeared in a scene or two each, existing only to serve Lisa and Dave’s story instead of carrying journeys of their own, and it would have allowed for greater comedic and thematic opportunity if these characters too had faced obstacles to overcome.
It was pleasantly surprising to see The Gap feel unrestrained by its genre and often dance between comedy and drama seamlessly. It delivers a story that will leave you pondering and beaming in equal measure, and possesses an engaging, intellectual charm that it deserves be a little less modest about.
“this highly original piece surpasses the usual version of events”
‘…at least, that’s how it should have happened.’
When the subject of a story is written about in a compelling, expressive, even beautiful manner, it is difficult to imagine that there could be any other aspect of the plot worth mentioning. Reading Franz Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis”, for example, it is hard to remember that the Samsa family have lives beyond obsessing over their son Gregor – a former travelling salesman who is now a giant insect. To be fair this is a pretty gripping plot; nonetheless, it leaves questions that are long overdue answers.
In this thought-provoking reimagining of Kafka’s tale, Sam Chittenden proposes and skilfully answers the question – “Who is Grete Samsa?” By her own admission, Grete’s role in the story is very much, ‘the sister did this, the daughter did that’. But who is she beyond this? For Chittenden, she is a young girl undergoing a transformation as dark and difficult as that of her brother: puberty. Simultaneously, the two siblings face the feeling of waking up in a new body, of being changed and looked at with newfound fascination. The only difference is that, unlike her brother, Grete must endure it unsupported, unnoticed, and unloved.
“The Metamorphosis” has been retold countless times; this highly original piece surpasses the usual version of events. Chittenden’s script is engaging and cleverly uses aspects of the original story in new and effective ways. She uses the concept of a grotesque transformation to explore the feelings of adolescent girls as their bodies change. This shift in identity (from girl to woman) is no less daunting than the prospect of waking up and finding yourself changed into an insect or animal: both displace stability and lead to confusion, hurt, and anger. Simultaneously, Chittenden keeps Kafka’s tale in focus, drawing engaging portraits of the entire Samsa family and generally refining areas that were neglected in the original.
Grete is effortlessly bought to life by Heather-Rose Andrews. Andrews effortlessly transitions between the adult and adolescent Grete, vocally and physically capturing their respective emotional cores with ease. One moment she has the audience suspended in rapture as she details a horrific instance of sexual assault; the next, her tone is light and frivolous as she mocks her parents’ inability to notice anything beyond their son’s predicament. The unfussy set – Gregor’s briefcase sits downstage, Grete’s bed upstage – allows Andrews to weave her way through the space uninterrupted, and the small moments of physical theatre add some accents of Kafkaesque absurdity. Unfortunately, the persistent music sometimes undermines the subtly of Andrews’ performance. She is more than capable of portraying the emotional depth that this piece requires of her, and it is a shame that the music artificially attempts to do this on her behalf.
Metamorphosis is a polished and beautifully executed show which deserves a much wider audience. Not only is it an enjoyable piece of theatre, but it adds to the conversation surrounding Kafka’s work and asks important questions of this iconic and much-interpreted story.
Reviewed by Harriet Corke
Bread & Roses Theatre as part of the Clapham Fringe Festival