Back in March when the International Festival programme was announced I made this one of my top theatre picks. I did so on the strength of the same company's excellent one-man version of King Lear. Sadly this return visit is nowhere near as good.
The big contrast with the 2011 show is that although once again Wu Hsing-Kuo is the single actor he just never rivets one's attention the way he did as the various protagonists in King Lear. His versatility, his balletic grace, his manipulation of costume (particularly the bug's remarkable antennae in Scene Two) are still impressive – but the script and the surrounding effects make for a far more distancing experience, and indeed one that seems to diminish rather than enhance his efforts.
The script makes one feel too much (as so often in modern theatre) as if one is being ineffectually lectured. The video projections (I think by Ethan Wang) while a better fit than Gary Hill's in Fidelio still overstay their welcome. The scenes feel disconnected, with too much repetition of the same devices (most particularly Hsing-Kuo ascending and descending the zig-zag path up the wall which forms the main piece of set. I recall repetition being a distinctive element of the Asian themed performances of the 2011 Festival, but my recollection then is of that repetition packing rather more punch. I'm afraid on this occasion I found it increasingly dull. Overall, unlike with the characters of Lear in 2011, I never felt emotionally engaged by Samsa's plight (or that of any of his family).
I admit that I don't know Kafka's work anywhere near as well as I know King Lear and maybe those who did got far more out of this than I. But unlike that 2011 show, this one committed my cardinal theatrical sin of leaving me indifferent (and I fear somewhat bored as it went on). As the show crept deeper into its second hour there was a steady stream of walkouts. Sadly, I can't say I altogether blame them.
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