Contemplation, or rather uncontemplation about the self- that is what Alan Bennett’s comedy Kafka’s Dick turned out to be. The title is a signal to the audience that the show is a combination of academic seriousness and basic humour which promises to reveal what life is really about. The play focuses on the obsession with fame and the nature of historical truth whilst making fun of insubstantial essence of literary studies and philosophy. The amusing appearance of Brod in the house of Sydney and Linda magnifies the absurdity of play’s action, as we notice how eloquent speech can help one get away with pissing over somebody’s doorstep.
Indeed, Jake Hathaway succeeded in portraying Franz Kafka as a man who has intimate parts to his soul, particularly his Achilles’ foot – his small dick. The sullen posture and quirky eyebrow movements of Hathaway resulted in a warm –hearting performance of a humble introvert, tormented by the capacities of his own mind, whose life is made timeless at the expense of his intimate self being forever put on a public display. Having seen Hathaway in other productions, this part undoubtedly gave him new dimensions and artistic possibilities. The scene with Linda, particularly, was most charmingly performed, as Hathaway succeeded to communicate simplicity and sincerity is what makes a man attractive.
Zac Tiplady gave a confident performance of Brod- a somewhat arrogant but nevertheless a true friend of Kafka. The omniscience of Brod about the future was amusing and highlighted the absurdist nature of the play, offering a serious attempt to communicate the lightness of being.
Furthermore, Sydney (played by Henry Gould) is a man obsessed with academic research which leaves him inadequate and naive. Wide open eyes, chest drawn forward and his amusing laugh made his performance enjoyable. This is a man who publishes his works on literary criticism in a journal of insurance studies and cannot in fact satisfy his wife because he is too rigid and conforms to social prejudice. His last message to the audience, delivered in a childlike fascination, was how every man’s individual life makes history. The character of Linda played by Poppy Sparrow shows that in this male dominated world, being literate is a tool for authoritative power and a facade which excuses the vices of humanity. Her performance was delightful and insightful. Sparrow is charismatic and imaginative on stage, full of energy, lightness and womanly charm. The actress succeeded in portraying Linda as the one who truly knows what all men in the world of this play want- a mother, a wife, a friend. Linda is the only one who is branded as stupid but in the end the only one who gets Kafka’s name right-he had been a “thief” all the way through.
Angharad Phillips (Julie) and Adam Simpson (Hermann K) were ingenious in portraying an eccentric couple and bad parents of Kafka. The couple makes fun of the famous psychoanalytical claims such as “nothing is normal” as they try to change their reputation in history by showing off as ideal parents. This creates another layer of comedy as the appearance of Simpson and Phillips adds new energy to the play. Abundant kissing and bullying on stage is amusing. In his play Bennett shows how cruelty can be funny but ruinous to the connections within the family as Julie is often silenced because she is a woman.
Cruel jokes aimed at Father (Josh Williams)- an old man who is a source of disrespect and amusement. Williams portrayed him as physically disabled, humble and a burden to the young generations. His amusing but poignant performance invited us to think how we treat our own parents.
A nice directorial touch was that the actors were present on stage before the start of the show which prepared the audience for a serious, dialogue-based play. Well-fitted costumes, witty dialogue spoken from the upper stage with the curtains not yet open made the audience appreciate the impressive set which revealed the flat of Sydney and Linda. Jazzy music in the first act added style to the production. White and pink wallpaper, a sofa, a flower pot, a bookcase and falling off door handles- handled well by the cast and invited a good use of space. It might have been scripted by Bennett, or just interpreted by the actors themselves, perhaps for the comic effect, that in the first scene Kafka’s request to his friend Brod to burn all his work comes across as a cry for attention and a hidden wish for fame. The play’s conflict which revolves around the issue of privacy and fame therefore seemed somehow unsubstantiated.
As a series of domestic dramas unfold, Kafka’s Dick is a brilliant example of comedy well done. For me, this organically put together production, combined with charm of the actors was an ambitious take on Bennett’s comedy. It is indeed a play about ‘unexpected connections’ and about life itself in all its ridiculousness.