The best part of making up

Talking to some of the people behind the Old Rep’s forthcoming attraction.

Opening at Old Rep Theatre before touring, Metamophosis is Kafka’s classic tale of a man who wakes up one morning to find that’s he’s turned into a beetle. The show updates the story to modern day to ask questions about mental health and caring for a person who is in some way debilitated.

This production makes use of state-of-the-art makeup by TV and film makeup artist Sarah Luscombe to depict Gregor’s transformation, building throughout the show to become more and more insect-like. We asked Sarah and co-director and performer Adam Lloyd-James about the challenges of such a production.

For those not familiar with the play, what is it about?

Adam: “The short answer is it’s about a man who is turned into a beetle and what happens as a result of that. If you want a more in-depth answer… How much time have you got?? Metamorphosis examines themes of identity, perception, coming of age… It’s about how far you can push the ones you love; it’s about prejudice based solely on outward appearance; it’s about the importance of being rather than seeming to be.

“Kafka’s story begins with a man inexplicably transformed into a monster, seemingly for no reason whatsoever, and addressed what might happen to the man/monster, his family who care for him, and the world around him as they react to him.”

What attracted you to it?

Adam: “All of the above! There is so much to take away from this story. Honestly every time I read it I get something else from it that I’d never noticed before. We’re always finding new angles with it, even in the middle of rehearsals.

“It’s also extremely relevant today, particularly with the theme of mental health, which we’ve focused on quite heavily. On top of this there’s the added bonus of having a phenomenally talented makeup artist who is capable of creating the transformation live, so that’s always an attraction too!”

It was written about 100 years ago. Have you updated it at all?

Adam: “In parts. The story has been expanded to include a few characters that are mentioned but never seen in Kafka’s novella, and a few scenes have been added which focus particularly on the deterioration in the relationship between our man/monster Gregor and his sister Grete. The time period has been updated too, to a more modern setting in order to emphasise its relevance.

“The language has needed less of an update than you might expect – it turns out Kafka’s disjointed style translates to a modern-day audience rather well! While playing with the makeup we’ve also found that presenting Gregor’s transformation as a step-by-step metamorphosis has proved more striking than having a complete change at the start of the play.”

It’s a very visual production, can you tell audiences what they should expect to see?

Adam: “Some pretty impressive makeup, for a start! I don’t want to give too much away, but it is absolutely terrifying. Particularly with the speed at which Sarah works – it’s some of the weirdest quick changes I’ve ever seen! We have a lot of fun with the lighting too: plenty of shadows and flickering lights. There’s also some more
bizarre moments, some…

“I’m not sure if comedy is the right word for a play like this, but black humour perhaps! We have a lot of fun with one of our actors, Luke, who is playing seven characters and is running all over the set doing quick changes with costumes, hats, fake moustaches… Like I said, it’s bizarre.”

How have you created the makeup?

Sarah: “With a lot of trial and error! Adam and I started by discussing what the metamorphosis would look like in an ideal world with unlimited time and budget. I then went away and worked on how to get as close to that as possible whilst considering the parameters of live theatre.

“We use all sorts of materials including prosthetics, crepe hair, greasepaints, fake blood as well as some more unusual things like marmite and salad cream! Often the things that give the best effect on stage are the most basic…. but I won’t spoil it by listing all of them!”

What’s the most fun makeup look you’ve ever created?

Sarah: “This is definitely up there as one of the most fun looks I’ve done! Adam has given me free reign to do whatever I think will work, which has been terrifying at times but a real treat. The gradual transformation of Gregor throughout the play from human to monster has meant I get to be super creative – there is so much going on!

“As for other makeup looks I’ve created – it’s always fun to work with blood and gore so I would say those are good to do, but I always enjoy creating any character look. The process of researching the person, period, story etc and putting it all together into their unique look never gets boring.”

Metamorphosis is at the Old Rep, Station St, Birmingham from 26th February-2nd March. Tickets