Writers: Peter Farrar &Rob Johnston
Director: Rob Johnston
Reviewer: Laura Maley
Inspired by the writing of Franz Kafka, author of The Trial and Metamorphosis, Kafkaesque is four dark and comic tales exploring what it means to be human. Two actors, Adam Urey and Katherine Godfrey, play eight unforgettable characters in the pieces which last about 20 minutes each. Impressive writing by Peter Farrar and Rob Johnston (who also directs) keeps all four pieces very recognisable as Kafka-inspired. Each is surreal, existential and with a thread of hopelessness running through them. Most do not come to a conclusion, but leaves the audience wondering what happens next (and often what has happened before).
Kafkaesque begins with the very funny An Interview for the Academy wherein the curator (Godfrey) of a scientific academy interviews an ape (Urey) who, after five years in captivity seems almost human. With witty exchanges, the ape is sophisticated yet his movements are still ape-like, offering constant reminders that he isn’t human. The audience is never quite sure how or why he has modified his behaviour, but his questioning of the curator offers thought-provoking insights.
Kafka’s reputation for using universal themes is particularly well developed in the second tale Men and their Atrocities which questions whether following orders is a defence against wrongdoing (without coming to a conclusion, leaving the audience to continue thinking about it). This is the most compelling of the four tales and Godfrey captivates the audience in what is largely a monologue about an eager (brainwashed?) servant and a sinister master who controls her actions and thoughts. Again, the audience is uncertain as to what has happened but the power of the piece and Godfrey’s performance is undeniable.
An Interview for The Academy and Selling The Hunger Artist, are more obviously comic, whereas the middle two, Men and their Atrocities and The Work, seem much darker. A couple’s career dissatisfactions and the unknown nature of the husband’s task in The Work seem to have echoes of Pinter as well as Kafka. However, with Kafka, nothing is quite that simple and Farrar and Johnston ensure that each piece has elements of comedy and darkness.
However, after the first two tales, the second two stories prove less engaging. The Work feels almost interminably repetitive (the suitcase packing and repacking proves distracting) and too abstract to care about either character – in spite of the interesting premise pitting dreams against delusion and compromise within a relationship. This feels a particular shame since the first two stories are really quite riveting. Selling The Hunger Artist – a story about a hunger artist and a theatrical agent – brings more interest, and there are definite shades of modern TV talent shows with a desperation both to perform and to find the next big thing, but in spite of clever writing and good performances, the surreality and lack of clear endings (the overall Kafkaesque nature, indeed) in both the final two stories in particular may prove too frustrating for many.
Runs until 15 January