Uneasy Dreams

JAMES MACNAMARA is left depressed, depraved and seeking solace. The play was alright, though.

Corpus Playroom dali franz kafka fred maynard harry sheehan james macnamara stephen bermingham surreal surrealism Theatre uneasy dreams valentine's day

Corpus Playroom, 14th – 18th February, 9.30pm, £5-6

Adapted/Directed by Fred Maynard and Stephen Bermingham

[rating: 3/5]

So: Saint Valentine’s day and I’m alone, watching a staged version of Franz Kafka’s short stories.

I couldn’t even get a plus one. What went wrong chaps? What’s happened to my loins? But anywho. This production centred on a brave, if potentially naive premise: that Kafka’s short stories might be suitable for a spot of light adaptation for the stage.

I didn’t leave the Playroom convinced. But I enjoyed most of the evening, and Maynard and Bermingham deserve respect for what they’ve tried to undertake.

Here, Kafka gets an aesthetic makeover, with an injection of original music, song, some stylised use of props and physicality and LOLZ thrown in. This might sound like a damnable attempt to make Kafka accessible. But that was generally avoided. The bizarre stories were preserved well and maintained much of their original surreal resonance.

Stephen Bermingham’s composition is accomplished and well-suited to the atmosphere of Kafka’s world. It sounded to me something like the eerie minimalism of Michael Andrews (Donnie Darko), alongside fairly traditional songsmithing – with some dissonant smudges along the way.

The songs were a surprising move. Kafka the Musical? Towards the end, however, I found myself warmed to their pleasant incongruity. I do wish I could have made out more of the lyrics though – some more judicious breath control and diction seems in order.

This contributed to my impression that the cast was relatively inexperienced. This was bolstered by the fact that I only recognised one of the actors – Harry Sheehan, who gave the stand-out performance with his boyish rosiness and natural comic timing.

Luckily, I enjoy these non-big-name nights. I like to see that people are trying something new, and are nervous about it – it mirrors my own experiences in the theatre, and generally I get warm and lovely about it all.

Everyone did well within a variety of unusual roles – a ‘hunger artist’, a simian lecturer on anthropomorphism – and it seemed to me that they were afforded by the directors some space to improvise, and this was pulled off successfully. So, not the heady professionalism of some things I’ve enjoyed recently, but admirable nonetheless. I hope to see more of them.

But there are more fundamental problems with this production. I understand Maynard and Bermingham’s love for Kafka, and how combining it with a love of theatre might have seemed a cracking idea at the time. But the surreal aesthetic works through a realist medium, through the strange jarring involved in filling a pretence of reality with the stuff of dreams.

The Surrealist painters – Dali, Ernst, Magritte et al – painted in a style closer to the realism of the old masters, at odds with the uneasy, expressive quality of their work. Using minimal props, physical theatre, song and other tropes that undermine the pretence of reality gets at the core of what defines Kafka’s art and changes it into something new. Something not bad and something I enjoyed, but not quite Kafka, nonetheless.

Perhaps I’m being a bit of curmudgeon. If you like Kafka then I would go and see what you make of it. But don’t expect to leave so disturbed that you start screaming WILL SOMEONE GO OUT WITH ME into the empty streets. I didn’t. Well, no one heard. Which is the same thing.