Edward Watson does angst expertly. The Royal Ballet principal proved himself as a convincing drug-ridden, suicidal Crown Prince Rupert in MacMillan’s ballet Mayerling and he was a nervy, jittery bespectacled White Rabbit in Wheeldon’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Now he’s a bug and literally climbing the walls.

Edward Watson as Gregor Samsa © Tristram Kenton
Edward Watson as Gregor Samsa
© Tristram Kenton

Franz Kafka’s powerful novella, The Metamorphosis, written in 1915 has been given a new slant in a dance-theatre adaptation by choreographer/director Arthur Pita. It is short, one and a quarter hours, but every minute is spell-binding. Pita, one-time dancer with Matthew Bourne’s Adventures in Motion Pictures is now a respected choreographer –with a wry sense of humour and impeccable timings, possibly gleaned from his Bourne experience. He has used music composed and played on a variety of instruments by Frank Moon: Czech folk dances, Jewish Horah, ballet music for the sister and electronic noises for the Bug in action.

The characters are already interacting on stage when the audience enters. The set is open and divided by lighting and mimed actions. On one side is the kitchen, where the repressed mother, needing regular doses of oxygen, the father who slops around in his dressing gown, and the young daughter, sit around the table watching TV. On the other half is the room of son Gregor Samsa, who is in bed covered by a white sheet. The light dims and the alarm clock rings. The day, like every other has started for the salesman and family breadwinner. His tedious routine: up, dress, take hat, briefcase and small cake left on kitchen table, exit house, buy coffee from vendor, take papers from colleague and finally catch the smoke belching train. At night, it’s all in reverse and on entering home, sister Grete jumps for joy and demands his attention for her latest dance lesson. This sequence is repeated three times with slick but black humour but on the fourth morning, the alarm goes off and is not shut up.

Gregor Samsa has turned into a bug overnight. There he lies on his curved back like a stag beetle who has fallen upside down, his limbs flailing out in every direction and his fingers and toes constantly moving as he tries to right himself. Watson was excellent in convincing with his writhings and wrigglings, jutting out his limbs into incredibly awkward angles, twisting them around each other and his body as would a contortionist, or else shooting up a leg in the air at 180’, to make a wide arc which propelled him onto his front. As his traumatic experience continues and he is left to his own devices, he spews out brown liquid on the floor and slips and slides in it until he is covered. His bed tilts and at times he crawls up and hangs over watching like a predatory spider from its web. And, of course, he climbs the walls. The nightmare (for both Samsa and audience) is expounded by the sudden appearance of three stick-thin creatures, completely bound in black shiny rubber like black Spiderman lookalikes, who come to torment him, covering the room and him in more of the brown grunge until it resembles a slimy brown bog. The family is revolted by his condition and room, but the charlady (Betti Carpi) is unfazed by the ‘Bug’ and his mess—just as long as she gets paid. Carpi (who was also the coffee seller and one of the three Jewish tenants) expressed her matter-of-fact manner believably. The Samsa parents -- Nina Goldman and Anton Skrzypiciel -- enacted their dull monotonous lives clearly. But it was Laura Day as Grete who stole the show from them. Starting as a precocious young schoolgirl whose early dancing was literally ‘kids’ stuff’, she developed her character, showing at first, a caring sister concerned with her brother’s predicament, and later, her horror and disgust of him. (She screams well!) and exhibited a beautiful ballet style as she ‘progressed’ with her studies.

In The Metamorphosis, Arthur Pita has produced a fine piece of work. It intrigues with its clever conception, slick, dead-pan humour and despite its creepy topic, is completely absorbing.