Inspired by Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis, Meta is a tense exploration of modern isolation.

Meet the Samsa family: a dysfunctional household imprisoned by suburban routine. The mother (Liz Jones) is an elderly asthmatic who makes tea and vain attempts at conversation. Her retired husband (John Flaus) studiously reads the newspaper with his old briefcase at his side. Meanwhile, the sexually frustrated Grete (Mary Helen Sassman) scratches at the veneer of family normality.

But the saviour is Gregor (Aaron Orzech), a busy office worker who brings home gifts, money and tales from the outside.

Suddenly, the incredible happens: Gregor is transformed into something bestial, repulsive. Horrified by what he has become, the family’s true nature is laid bare.

This tense and, at times, very funny reimagining of Kafka’s surrealist work by The Second Cousins is the final show in Malthouse Theatre’s Helium program.

It is a restrained production. Dialogue is sparse and the interplay is a ritualised dance of routine: the boiling kettle, the ticking clock, the father and his crossword puzzle. As in most families, the real truth lies in facial expressions, vocal tone and subtle movements.

In this sense, Sassman and Jones are excellent, with the pyjama-clad Sassman (Frankenstein and The Story of O) an electric and unpredictable force, periodically flashing her breasts to the street outside. Orzech is a fragile, twitchy Gregor and Flaus is suitably grumpy, but all are overshadowed by Sassman’s energy.

Structurally, perhaps too much time is spent establishing the banality of family life in the single, white room of their home. The latter part of the performance feels rushed by contrast.

Nonetheless, the tension is cranked up toward the climax, thanks largely to the intense sound design (James Paul), and the unsettling intrusion of the clerk (Josh Ferenbach) who wants an impossible debt repaid.

The ending is a satisfying, but surprising, visual feast.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

The Second Cousins
Conceived and Directed by Samara Hersch
Producer: Bek Berger
Sound Design and Composition: James Paul
Performed and co-devised by: Josh Ferenbach, John Flaus, Liz Jones, Aaron Orzech and Mary Helen Sassman

Set and Costume Romanie Harper
Lighting Design Amelia Lever-Davidson

Malthouse Theatre
113 Sturt Street, Southbank.
22 October – 1 November 2014

Mark Brandi

Saturday 25 October, 2014

About the author

Mark Brandi is a Melbourne writer currently completing his first fiction manuscript, a literary crime novel set in country Victoria and the inner suburbs of Melbourne.