I recently saw a new stage adaptation of Kafka's Metamorphosis and wrote a review for a couple of Icelandic-Canadian papers (in English). I was led into a comparison of another recent brilliantly staged production, Needles and Opium, by Robert Lepage. This is not for any review but for my own consideration. Both pieces are distinctive for their innovative staging that rivets the audience's attention, rivets and, in fact, diverts it. N&O is about a couple of characters who are stoned or high - and suffering, of course. The set is a room-size box whose walls and floor keep shifting according to the drugged perception of the characters. The actors are on wires as they sometimes defy gravity in order to stand on whatever wall/floor presents itself. The room itself is a kind of character, influencing the behaviour of the protagonists. The effect is dazzling but the dazzle wears off in retrospect. I realized that without that shifting set and the wonderful agility of the performers, the story wasn't much. On the other hand, though a believable presentation of a man who has turned into a bug is difficult, his pain and predicament are served by the set design, not overwhelmed by it. His bedroom, on a second level above the living room, is a box that helps the poor bug to crawl all over the walls and floor as he reacts in anguish to his treatment by his family. The actor doesn't have a wire but there are handholds all over the walls; his agility is marvellous and they don't upstage (if you'll pardon the expression) his human agony.
Robert Lepage gets A for his stage design but B for his story. Three-time winner of the annual Icelandic Theatre Award for Stage Design, Börkur Jónsson, gets A for the stage design but Kafka (and his adaptors) get A+ for the story. The bug wins.