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Wednesday, 14 August 2013 00:00


by Gordon Parsons

Edinburgh International Festival: King's Theatre

Last year Wu Hsing-kuo, artistic director and leading actor of China's Contemporary Legend Theatre, performed his outstanding one-man dissection of King Lear in Edinburgh.

Now he brings his remarkable technical and interpretive oriental intelligence to bear on one of Western culture's great statements of what its author believed to be the essential loneliness of the human condition.

Franz Kafka's short story Metamorphosis has been the subject of numerous critical analyses and dramatic treatments.

Here, however, it would be wrong to look for explanations of the plight of the protagonist Gregor Samsa, who wakes up one morning to discover he has been transformed into a giant bug.

Wu writes of his adaptation of Kafka's work as lacking a story or a plot.

In fact using the skeleton of the tale, he explores a much broader landscape than the original. Where Kafka focuses on Gregor's isolation from family and society in general, an isolation shared by his creator, in this version we have presentations of multiple themes - fleeting time, the presence of death in life, the shared human lot with the whole of nature - only lacking Kafka's redemptive sacrificial love.

The production at the same time assails and seduces the eye and the ear with a kaleidoscope of video back projections flowing behind a great central outcrop of rock, a symbolically monstrous fossil visually commenting on the brief tenure of mankind.

Wu emerges as a grotesque bug, a stunning shared creation of actor and costume designer, his helplessly waving tenticles seeking for his fading humanity.

All the consummate art of Peking Opera, the balletic flair, the almost ethereal singing accompanied by the clashing, whirring traditional instruments is here melded with Western lyricism.

Wu's performance is hardly acting - he becomes a living statement of the world he portrays.

Finally in death, shedding his bug skin, he regains his human form, only to recognise and accept that man and bug are one.

A triumphant if sombre dramatic conclusion.

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