First Night Review : Kafka’s Dick

The premise is implausible; the play is a treat. A long-dead Kafka and recently deceased Brod wander unwittingly into 1970s working-class suburbia, to spend an evening discussing Kafka’s works, his struggle with the idea of notoriety, his relationship with his father and his small penis, of course. Yorkshire couple Sydney, an insurance salesman, and his working-class wife Linda are the unwitting hosts of this great of twentieth-century European literature.

 Obsessed with Kafka and his work, autodidact Sydney is currently adding to the huge body of critical literature on the Czech Chekov with an article of his own. The appearance of the couple’s uninvited guests is a dream come true for Sydney, while former nurse Linda is more concerned about how these men are, and whether they have been sent by social services to take care of her aged father.

 This hour-and-a-half-long play is supremely well-acted by the student cast; Alan Bennett’s humour shines throughout as the actors continually have the audience in delighted laughter. The talented group have mastered the comic timing required by Bennett’s script. First performed at the Royal Court theatre in 1986, this cast of student actors appears to be a professional troupe, bringing Kafka back to life to posthumously tread the boards of the Burton Taylor Studios.

 Peter Huhne is particularly remarkable in his role as Kafka’s ‘only friend’ and publisher Max Brod, conveying Brod’s suave egotism to perfection. Huhne deftly allows the audience glimpses into Brod’s feelings of inferiority at being the less famous of the pair, despite having himself been a prolific novelist. Kafka’s uneasiness with the idea of fame contrasts with Brod’s bitterness about not having had the recognition he feels he so richly deserved.

 Brod and the couple must endeavour to hide Sydney’s stacks of critical literature on Kafka, in order that Prague’s Proust does not discover that his best friend betrayed his dying wish that all his manuscripts be burnt. The appearance of Kafka’s father, inexplicably disguised as a policeman, spices up the script with familial conflict and there is a hint of sexual tension between an ill-at-ease Kafka and a slipper-shod Linda.

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 The script is sprinkled with literary references, as high-art meets lower class mundanity in an incongruous clash of cultures. Discussions revolve around the trivia of the lives of Kafka, Auden and Proust. Juicy titbits about F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ibsen are thrown in, as the script reveals our keen fascination with the famous.

 There is a wonderfully madcap scene at the end in which Kafka and Max Brod, adorned with glittery halos, find themselves in heaven. This is a heaven studded with literary stars such as Dostoyevsky and Noël Coward, and complete with a despondent Mary, whose legacy of Western Christianity is no consolation for her lack of grandchildren. The cast dances off the stage to the sound of maracas in a joyful finish to this gem of a play.

 Bizarre but somehow always believable; fantastical yet touching upon profound questions, this play is simultaneously witty and serious. The price of fame, family tensions, the suspicion of intellectualism, the hunger to know the tiny details of a famous person’s life are just a few of the issues raised. A tortoise crawling across the floor for part of the play adds a final splash of surrealism to this bizarre biographical re-imagining of Kafka.

4.5 STARS