Taiwan Contemporary Legend Theatre stage Metamorphosis at 2013 Edinburgh International Festival

Actor Wu Hsing-kuo tackles Kafka's text in technology-heavy production

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This article is from 2013.

Taiwan Contemporary Legend Theatre stage Metamorphosis at 2013 Edinburgh International Festival

Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis is creeping towards its centenary. As this landmark tale is unleashed on the EIF, Taiwanese actor Wu Hsing-kuo talks to Mark Fisher about movement, multimedia and mothers

Wu Hsing-kuo knows all about transformation. In the Edinburgh International Festival of 2011, he morphed himself into all the key characters of King Lear. In his idiosyncratic one-man interpretation of Shakespeare’s play, Wu tackled each part in turn, drawing on the techniques of Peking opera and employing balletic kicks, athletic tumbles, operatic wails and the most delicate of eye movements.

When it comes to transformation, there is no greater novella than Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, with its story of Gregor Samsa, a travelling salesman who wakes to find himself inexplicably turned into a beetle. It is to this strange European allegory, published in 1915, that Wu has now turned as he heads back to Edinburgh with Taiwan’s Contemporary Legend Theatre. ‘Kafka is a thinker as well as an author,’ he says. ‘His philosophy has had a great impact in the East.’

In our late-capitalist high-pressure world, the image of someone changing from a metaphorical worker insect into the genuine article has particular resonance. The main reason people notice Gregor Samsa’s absence is because he’s late for work. ‘People of our generation tend to be slaves of economic society,’ says the actor-director. ‘In Kafka’s story, he speaks out for helpless young people and reveals their inner voice. He also asks, “what is existence for?” I feel my predicament is not unlike that of Gregor Samsa, attending to his family duties.’

As with King Lear, Wu takes a directly personal approach to the original. In Kafka’s fraught family relationships, he hears echoes of the sometimes humiliating father-son relationship he had with his acting teacher. It also makes him reflect on his late mother. ‘Because she passed away due to lung failure soon after my graduation, I deliberately arrange a pretty mother in my play to stand for youth and a woman that I love.’

The influence of Peking opera remains, although it is less easy to apply it to a European existentialist novel than a play by Shakespeare. In this school of performance, equal weight is carried by language, literature, dancing, fighting and singing. Wu also draws on his experience as a modern dancer and movie actor. ‘I still employ techniques of Peking opera which are my mother tongue. This work, however, has much space which enables me to bring creative ideas of dancing and visual images into full play.’

In keeping with the theme of this year’s EIF, Metamorphosis is Wu’s first attempt to make use of interactive technology. He has been collaborating with multimedia programmer YS Wang, and with the Quanta Institute of Technology which has provided him with options for recording, digitalisation and interactive performance. ‘I hope to stage technology with a humane aspect,’ he says. ‘In Eastern theatre, conveying philosophical ideas carries a lot of weight. Application of technology should be regarded as secondary. After all, The Metamorphosis deals with humans and actors are still the focus of our work. Technology, on the other hand, plays the roles of the dream world or subconscious.’

As an artist who routinely combines several disciplines, Wu sees technology as a great artistic opportunity. ‘It excites me tremendously. New and old theatrical languages integrate as they confront each other. I have to be extremely sensitive and alert in the creative process and it enables me to be closer to Kafka in spirit. It is a suffering that I enjoy.’

Contemporary Legend Theatre: Metamorphosis, King’s Theatre, Leven Street, 0131 473 2000, 10 & 11 Aug, 8pm; 12 Aug, 3pm, £12–£30.

This article is from 2013.


World Premiere: Travelling salesman and sole breadwinner for his family, Gregor Samsa awakes one day to discover that he has been transformed into a giant insect. Unable to communicate and shocking to anyone who sees him, he is forced into a solitary existence confined to his room. As he becomes insufferable to himself…


1. Lao Tou11 Aug 2013, 11:30pm Report

Lot's of technique. But sadly no drama. A great shame. 2 hours felt like years. Went on far far too long - with unnecessary repetition that eliminated any engagement that might have built up. This may be what happens when the performer has so much authority that no-one is able to take proper direction decisions.

2. Jane Sunderland23 Aug 2013, 5:41pm Report

Very beautiful, visually arresting, impressive movement and good use of projection technology - but, yes, too long, especially the 'woman' scene and particularly especially the death scene at the end.

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