Corpus Playroom, Tues 26th- Sat 2nd, 7pm
Alan Bennett’s farcical exploration of fame and reputation reached moments of brilliance but also hit a few lows as the Fletcher Players could not quite sustain their fast-paced, bizarre hilarity.
The play followed the reappearance of double-act Kafka (Freddy Sawyer) and his best friend Max Brod (Luke Sumner) in 1980s Leeds, fifty years after Kafka’s death. As Kafka came to the realisation that Max never fulfilled his death wish by burning his texts, the audience are taken on an exploration of the nature of fame, and Kafka’s name which, incidentally, he hates.
A great floral armchair became the centrepiece of the kitsch set and as characters made their entrances and exits by shutting themselves (sometimes two at a time) into the SMEG fridge, everything hit a higher level of bizarre. The actors were also crushed into a wardrobe stickered with a garish photo of a garden, which didn’t make for a convincing set of patio doors, and was teamed with a rather lame window frame through which nothing could be seen except the wall of the Playroom and a couple of stuck-on window flowers.
Despite a few issues with lines, and the pot plants being knocked over several times, the first half of the production steadily improved as the actors settled in their roles. Some great parrying between Max and Kafka, and Sidney (Alex Bell) and Linda (Maeve Hannah), brought the comedy up a level. The high point came just before the interval in a brilliantly sharp, fast-paced scene of clever puns and prop-throwing physical comedy as Max and Sydney frantically tried to stop Kafka seeing his own books.
Sidney’s wife, Linda, grew from complaints of being a stuck-at-home housewife to making a strong feminist statement about women’s lack of access to fame, Hannah supporting the comedy throughout. Cameo appearances from Sidney’s aged father (Josh Manasseh), bent ninety degrees at the waist with age and always one step behind the others, always elicited a giggle.
Once into the second half, however, the performance seemed to begin a descent of the hill it had just climbed. Sipke O’Seachnasaigh did the angry, arrogant father of Kafka well, but it seemed the angry, arrogant father was all he did and the shouting became a little grating towards the end.
The dimmed-light trial scene lost momentum; the focus on Kafka’s reputation seemed too intense a contrast to the farcical delights of the previous act. The comedy was not as forthcoming but the penultimate scene, in which Sidney pulled audience members onto the stage to make his big speech about writers, renewed interest and elicited a round of applause as the audience thought the play had finished. Little were we aware, however, that the closing scene would feature ABBA, tutu-adorned male fairies and some extremely cringey dancing. The final message seemed to elude us as the production descended into amusing, confusing madness.
If you’re not too critical, Kafka’s Dick is definitely worth seeing for the laughs: it’s more a comedy than a straight farce at times. However, be prepared for the more static, deeper scenes and, if you don’t fancy a trip onto the stage, make sure you don’t sit in the front row.