Arthur Pita’s The Metamorphosis at the Royal Opera House
When it comes to abstract theatre, being heavy-handed is something that can be either an Achilles heel or a secret weapon – and with subject matter like Kafka’s, subtlety is simply not an option. With choreography informed by both ballet and contemporary dance, and Royal Ballet principal Edward Watson in the lead role as Gregor Samsa, Arthur Pita’s adaptation of Metamorphosis at the Royal Opera House takes this lack of subtlety to a new extreme.
Little from the novella is left out, Pita preferring to amplify and distort elements: the Samsa parents come from an Eraserhead-like universe, while Gregor’s sister is now a budding ballet dancer (not a violinist). The most striking extrapolation is in the opening scenes. We literally see the monotony of pre-transformation life as a salesman, expertly brought to life by the cast’s ability to repeat carbon copies of a daily routine with striking detail. This skillful portrayal of dystopic monotony makes the subsequent contrasting metamorphosis all the more harrowing. Watson’s virtuosity is apparent from the moment the transformation occurs, using contortionist expertise to convey the angst and confusion of the salesman trapped inside his new and monstrous form.
From this moment onwards however, the production lost its charisma and entered a downward spiral. Watson’s raw portrayal without costume or makeup was instantly nullified when black paint was introduced to the stage to symbolize his decaying humanity. Lengthy passages of choreography lacked direction, leading one to wonder whether it was a mistake to try to explore Kafka’s introspection with dance. Character development fell into stereotyping: a weeping mother, angry father, empathetic young daughter, and stern, mumbling, Czech cleaning lady carried little of the weight of Kafka’s original Samsa family struggling to confront the monster in their house. Most striking was the portrayal of the three lodgers who come to visit the house before hastily leaving at the sight of a monstrous Gregor. Three childishly clichéd Jewish Czechs entered, enjoyed their food, danced to some klezmer, then miserly insisted upon a refund before vacating the stage in haste.
The gradual muddying of the clean, white stage over the course of the performance and the disintegrating chaos of the live music attempted to mirror the onstage action, but simply distracted one all too easily from the dull meandering of the dancers. This unnecessary, all-thumbs production of yet another Kafka reimagining failed to be the one thing it needed to be – Kafkaesque.
The Metamorphosis has now finished its run at the Royal Opera House’s Linbury Studio. For further information about the Royal Opera House and future events visit the theatre’s website here, and for further information about Arthur Pita visit his website here.
Look behind the scenes of The Metamorphosis here: