Taiwanese actor Wu Hsing-kuo has made a name for himself merging traditional Chinese opera styles with modern performance techniques and Western classics, such as the 2011 production of 'King Lear' where he played every single one of the characters. As part of the Edinburgh International Festival this year, he tackles another classic, but with varying levels of success.
There's something very self-indulgent about this piece. Rather than a re-telling of Franz Kafka's extraordinary, surreal masterwork about Gregor Samsa, who wakes one morning to discover he has turned into a huge bug, the show is more of a highly personal interpretive reaction to it and as such, doesn't really have a narrative.
Hsing-kuo splits the story into six 'scenes' - chosen as important moments in the story - which are each explored through dance and song. The beautiful music is often haunting, but the terribly vague, occasionally incomprehensible subtitles distract from it.
Although Hsing-kuo is alone on stage, there are a series of complicated dream-like animations projected onto the back walls of the stage throughout the show. Apart from the occasional moment - like when hundreds of huge red apples cascade over the back walls of the theatre (Gregor's father mortally wounds him by hitting him in the back with an apple) - they regularly feel irrelevant to the story.
At two hours, the piece is too long (several people walked out of the performance I was in) and too insular an adaptation to really allow anyone else to relate to it. There are some moments which work, the bug dance and costume - which refers to traditional Peking opera dress - is very good and the scene where Gregor's father bangs and bangs on the door of his room does manage to evoke a terrible sense of sadness at the bug's desperate situation. But overall, this feels like an opportunity missed.
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