Inspired by Kafka’s tale, Contemporary Legend Theatre’s Wu Hsing-kuo presents a singular and striking vision of Gregor’s insectoid transformation: and in the process flips over the very concept of existence to examine the scuttling legs beneath.
Metamorphosis is a remarkable achievement. Not solely for being an intense one-man production, but for the layers of sensory experience mixed into his performance. Live video projections transform the striking ‘ice mountain’ set into cloudy mountaintops, icebergs adrift in endless oceans and anonymous apartments in industrialised cities. A live orchestra provide a soundtrack at times sweeping and cinematic, at others jarring and claustrophobic, played on the traditional instruments of the Peking Opera.
And it is the visual style of this distinctive artform which provides some of the piece’s most memorable scenes. The bug costume is an astonishing design — long curving feathers in place of antennae, a sculpted grimace of a mask and a metallic carapace on its back. When Wu Hsing-kuo steps into this, the transformation is remarkable. The stylised and exaggerated movements of Peking Opera are perfectly suited to interpreting the jerky tics of the bug, and Wu Hsing-kuo’s creation must surely be one of the most striking to ever appear upon the Festival stage.
Metamorphosis is split into six sections, opening with a mesmerising dream sequence and ending with Wu Hsing-kuo’s moving interpretation of the flight of the soul, and of the universe itself. Between these contemplative bookends, other scenes take more direct inspiration from Kafka’s original, yet all are equally striking.
Metamorphosis is a demanding piece — not only for the performer himself, but also for the audience. Meditative rather than driving in its action, it requires permission to fully appreciate: but once granted, rewards attention with a beautifully-realised exploration into the depths — and heights — of life itself.
Metamorphosis was at the King’s Theatre, 10-12 Aug