The Metamorphosis at the Royal Opera House online
Every day is the same for Gregor Samsa (Edward Watson). He wakes up at the same time, wears the same suit, and puts an identical yellow apple into his briefcase. He buys the same coffee from the same woman and boards the same train. In the evening, he gets the same sterile kiss on the cheek from his wife. That is until one day, when he wakes up to find he’s been transformed into a giant cockroach.
This adaptation of The Metamorphosis uses contemporary dance and physical theatre to show Samsa’s transformation. His movements are inhuman: his toes and fingers wriggle like antennae, taking on the form of a cockroach’s head. He moves in ways we don’t expect people to move, inverting yoga positions with insect-like actions to create something we likely have never seen before.
As he moves, his shadow takes on the silhouette of a cockroach, accentuating his movements. The stage, which starts off entirely white, is smeared with black oily slime as the show progresses. The black smudges spread across his room until they infect the family living space, transforming the sterile surroundings. The furniture tilts in Samson’s room, creating a disjointed, dirty mirror of what it once was.
Watson gives an incredible performance in the lead role: his strength and flexibility are truly impressive and he successfully uses his body to make us see him as something inhuman. Because this is a digital show, we are able to get a close up of his face, which is important because his eyes are still human, screaming at us.
Mime and sound effects are important here: although Samsa’s room is not physically cut off from the rest of the house, we come to believe there is a door there through the characters actions and perfectly timed sound effects. The other characters may not have such physically demanding roles, but they are vital because we need to see how people react to him to believe what is happening.
Samsa’s transformation is mostly shown through physical movements, but a black goo which starts around his mouth and goes on to smear his entire body is a visual reminder of what is happening to him. The monotony of his life is cleverly highlighted with the same music, the same characters, even the same apple.
The music wouldn’t be out of place in a horror movie. It’s not a traditional ballet score and takes inspiration from earthly sounds – like water, hissing, clinking – but disjoints them somehow, adding to the sense of surrealism. The characters speak aloud in Czech, their voices contrasting with the otherworldly soundtrack to show the conflict between the “real” world and Samsa’s new reality.
If you’re looking for a twirling tutu of a ballet, this isn’t the show for you. But if you want to watch something different, amazing and thought-provoking, turn The Metamorphosis on right now.
Photo: Tristram Kenton