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The Metamorphosis

Enter Stage Right: The Robot

Oct. 8, 2014
Franz Kafka's The Metamorphosis is famous for its themes of alienation, absurdity and now androids.

TOKYO - Franz Kafka's seminal work The Metamorphosis is famous for its themes of alienation, absurdity and now androids, as a robot takes center stage in a new theatrical adaptation.

Acclaimed Japanese director Oriza Hirata worked with leading roboticist Hiroshi Ishiguro to create the star of the show, a tall gangly robot with a metal skeleton and white human-like face and hands.

"Even though people react when they see a robot, you can tell people are not moved by it," Hirata said.

"I wanted to create a situation in which a robot could move an audience."

In Kafka's 1915 novella, travelling salesman Gregor Samsa wakes up one morning inexplicably transformed into a repulsive insect, causing his family to hide him away in shame and disgust.

Hirata's production swaps the big bug for a cold silver frame and an automated voice, testing the dramatic timing of four French actors chosen to play his family.

AFP photo

The company -- robot included -- worked on the play for a month in the remote town of Kinosaki in western Japan.

The show, titled "La Metamorphose version Androide," will now open for a short run in Yokohama on Thursday and then travel to Europe to kick off the "Autumn Festival Normandy" next month in France.

Award winning actress Irene Jacob praised the acting skills of her on-stage android son.

"It's a bit like a white mask, as we say in French 'Masque Blanc', in theatre," she said.

"It has something quite theatrical alright...sometimes he can smile a little bit or even laugh."

Some may see the robot as a canny choice to illustrate the book's discussion of isolation in modern capitalist society, which resonates in the technology-obsessed present day, nearly 100 years since the story was published.

Ishiguro, head of a robotics lab at Osaka University, is a well-known figure in Japan who has already staged several plays featuring robots with Hirata.

But this is the first to be performed in a language other than Japanese -- the production is in French with Japanese surtitles.

In the past, Ishiguro has created a robot based on himself, an android newscaster, and a cheeky talking humanoid robot called Pepper.

Katie Forster, AFP

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2014

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