The Metamorphosis, Royal Opera House, London

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The Independent Culture

The dancer Edward Watson has an extraordinary physique. Tall, thin and highly flexible, he can fold himself into knots or reach long legs up past his ears. As Gregor Samsa, the man- turned-insect of The Metamorphosis, his flexed elbows and splayed toes suggest an insect's delicate limbs, while the hunch of his back shows the pain of his transformation.

Watson's amazing performance is the heart of Arthur Pita's stylish new dance adaptation of Kafka's surreal story. Simon Daw's domestic set is placed in the middle of the Linbury Studio Theatre, with the audience on both sides. The Samsa family home is a sterile 1950s world of stark white furniture and well-tended appliances. The narrow space outside can be a street or a train platform, as Gregor sets off for work each morning.

Pita crams normal daily life into a few scenes of clockwork repetition: Gregor passes the same coffee seller on the way to work, drinking the same soup when he comes home. His parents and sister all lift their spoons in unison, but with individual characterisation: his mother is prim, his father heavy, his sister cheerful.

Most of the story is told in mime; Pita adds a little dialogue, in Czech – the sister counting her ballet moves, the coffee seller shouting her wares. The words become part of Frank Moon's score, which mixes folk, swing and Eastern European lounge, before plunging into dissonance to evoke Gregor's changed world.

Gregor's transformation breaks into his ordered life. Watson lies in bed, limbs stretched into the air, rocking helplessly on his back. When he does manage to turn over we see smears of inky liquid dribbling from his mouth, smeared over his naked chest. As an insect, Gregor leaves a dark trail, a disruptive sign of where he has been. In his dream sequence, dark figures creep out covered in the liquorice-smelling slime.

Having come up with strong images, Pita sometimes fails to develop them: after their unnerving entrance, the dream figures don't do much. The work could do with trimming, particularly a long scene with tricky lodgers. Yet the performances are superb: Nina Goldman and Anton Skrzypiciel are stylish and touching as Gregor's parents, and Laura Day outstanding as little his sister. But it's Watson's show, from the neat primness of the human Gregor to the anguished awareness of the insect.



To 24 September (020 7304 4000)

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