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The Metamorphosis: After Kafka and Nabokov

Summerhall, Edinburgh
Three stars

What to do if your leading lady passes away shortly before a performance? As is always the case with theatrical etiquette, the show must go on and you bring on the understudy, even if it’s a different species. That’s the back-story to this one-off Edinburgh International Science Festival date for a work-in-progress from biologist and some-time stand-up, Simon Watt, which aims to dissect one of modern literature’s seemingly darkest creations.

Over fifty-five minutes, Watt and a ukulele-playing accomplice first act out a lo-fi version of Franz Kafka’s story about down-trodden office worker Gregor Samsa’s transformation into what is usually translated as a dung beetle. This is something that novelist, entomologist and Kafka scholar Vladimir Nabokov took serious issue with. With this in mind, it’s perhaps fortunate that this pocket-sized contemporisation featuring a Zero Hours contracted Greg includes a real live cockroach rather than the unfortunately deceased stag beetle who preceded it. The audience sees this in projected close-ups filmed live by Watt from outside a dolls house type construction.

Once Greg comes to a sticky end with a whole lot more metaphorical fun than is usually found in Kafka’s work, the second half of the show throws Nabokov’s linguistic pedantry into an entertaining and at times off-the-cuff mix of pop science cabaret. This results in various six-legged creatures being passed around the audience for inspection. All of which makes for quite a show-and-tell, as assorted creepy-crawlies are accorded due respect while giving some educational insight into the secret life of the ‘vile and verminous insect’ of Kafka’s opening paragraph. There’s still some way to go yet, and Nabokov is crying out to have more of a say, but this might just be a monster show in the making.

The Herald, April 3rd 2018



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