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A review by Vanessa Bunn for EXTRA! EXTRA!




Nameless Theatre Company present


Kafka v Kafka


Based on Franz Kafka’s Letter to my Father





Photo by Anna Nguyen

Adapted and translated by Howard Colyer

Directed by Leigh Tredger

Artistic Director: James Farrell

Set and Costume Designer: Moi Tran

Lighting Designer: Anna Sbokou


Brockley Jack Studio Theatre

17 January – 4 February 2012


Disjointed, discordant music awakens the internal consciousness of Franz Kafka (Jack Wilkie) and the curiosity of the audience who are seated around a peculiarly surreal set. In an unmistakably Magritte-inspired space, the floor and chairs are painted as a sky and at the back of the stage sits a metaphorical scrapheap for Franz's failed relationship with his father, a mound of stones which he will attempt to excavate at his most desperate moments. Kafka v Kafka tells the story of the most common of communication breakdowns, between parent and child, and investigates the complex dynamic of a father/son relationship.

The action centres around a mock trial during which the contents of a letter Kafka wrote to his father, Hermann (Gareth Pilkington) are discussed between the two. His mother, Julie (Jean Apps) and sister, Ottla (Ivy Corbin) stand in the wings, infiltrating the action at intervals. The programme for the play reminds that Kafka's father never read the letter in question; knowledge of this fact along with the dreamlike staging of the play make it very clear that the audience are being allowed to witness the workings of Kafka's mind as he attempts to process the contents of this significant letter.

The deepest strength of writer Howard Colyer's scripting lies in the fact that it is possible to sympathise with any and all of the characters. Franz Kafka is by no means glorified or made faultless, as some of his more self-indulgent monologues paint him almost as a parody of a tortured artist. Pilkington, as an aged Herman Kafka makes slow swimming motions through the air at the edge of the stage and the edge of his son’s consciousness, while Franz describes a youthful, athletic, intimidating man who made him feel worthless. The credibility of some of the complaints in Kafka's letter are undermined through conflated scenes like this one throughout the play.

Subtle comic irony in the script is most adeptly realised by Jean Apps, who is delightfully coy and receptive as Kafka's mother. She brings life to her character, a difficult task coupled with managing to convey that she, like all the secondary characters, is being imagined. Repeated echoed words of torment which feature time and again during the play remind the audience that they are witnessing a warped reality in the intensely troubled imagination of Franz Kafka. Harrowing events are played in slow motion and director Leigh Tredger has ensured that prolonged and harrowing imaginings are reflected as such on the stage. Compounding this effect, lighting designer Anna Sbokou uses shadows reflected on the backdrop of the stage to communicate other remembrances, particularly those involving violence.

The whole play is laced with references to Magritte – hats, clouds, and fish all feature, intensifying the surreal atmosphere. Mirrors are introduced to heighten the complexity of Franz's thoughts and serve to suggest that even in two so utterly opposed as Hermann and Franz there are inescapable familial similarities. The play closes with Ottla delivering a moving epilogue, detailing the separate fates of all four characters. Franz continually insists during the trial with his father that he “only wants to better a complete misunderstanding”. Kafka v Kafka explores the tragic difference between misunderstanding, and complete lack of any understanding, and offers gripping insight into the irreconcilable chasm that the latter creates.


Photo by Anna Nguyen
Box Office: 0844 847 2454
Brockley Jack Studio Theatre
410 Brockley Road, London, SE4 2DH
Tickets: £12 (£10 concs.)

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