Kafka's Dick

Tuesday, 26 January, 1999

This play was premiered by Richard Eyre at the Royal Court in 1986, and now Peter Hall has revived it here at the Piccadilly Theatre as part of the Peter Hall Season, and as with all Peter's plays it is very well produced and cast.

The play begins two years before Kafka's death. He tells his great friend Max Brod that he is to burn all of his work, all his manuscripts and papers after his demise. (Although Max promised to do this, he did not comply and actually published all his work!). The play then continues in a dream like state in which we are taken into the present day. Here, an English insurance salesman is preparing an article concerning the importance of Kafka's work. However, the doorbell sounds and when he opens the door it is in fact Max Brod. What follows is an amusing set of circumstances that also sees Kafka appear. Max attempts to conceal the fact that he did not burn Kafka's work after all. Then to add to matters, Kafka's dad, whom Kafka detested, also appears. Does this sound confusing? Well it isn't. It is all very clever and very funny.

This comedy is full of interesting characters and tries in an amusing way to give an insight into the life of Kafka and why he wanted his work burned, and how he would probably react if he came back from the dead to discover the whole of his work was published.

John Gordon-Sinclair, who won an Olivier Award in 1995 for best Actor in a Musical for "She Loves Me", plays the morbid and sullen Kafka very convincingly with his head bowed, as if shy, and his body stiff as he shuffles about like a timid little boy.

Julia McKenzie, who had a successful run in "Communicating Doors" a few years ago, plays 'Linda', the wife of the salesman. She is charming as the bored wife, who had never heard of Kafka until she meets him in the flesh, but then becomes fond of him and feels sorry for him. Jason Watkins, seen in recent years in "Habeus Corpus' at the Donmar and "My Night With Reg" at the Criterion, is marvellous as 'Max Brod'. There are competent performances from the experienced Michael Byrne as 'Kafka's father' and from Denis Lill as 'Sydney' the salesman, and of course some great comic acting from the great and respected Eric Sykes, who also appeared in Peter Hall's production of "The School For Wives" at the Piccadilly Theatre in 1997.

The show received positive notices from the popular press when it opened in November. CHARLES SPENCER of THE DAILY TELEGRAPH said Bennett's play offers " two hours of comic bliss." NICHOLAS DE JONGH of THE EVENING STANDARD said " Gordon-Sinclair's lightweight Kafka, Lill's bland Sydney and Watkins's torpid Brod do not dent the smooth running of Bennett's beautiful comic vehicle." JOHN THAXTER of THE STAGE said "Alan Bennett's thought-provoking romp, about the influence of Kafka's undersized member on 20th century litcrit, provides a delicious jeu d'esprit to close a successful Piccadilly season." However, ALASTAIR MACAULAY of THE FINANCIAL TIMES was not too impressed saying "Kafka's Dick seems less amusing than contrived."

For me, Kafka's Dick is a great production with a great cast, and a great evening's entertainment.

(Darren Dalglish)

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