Kafka’s Dick

Even though it features an actual tortoise, this production fails to un-tedious its tedium, writes ANNA ISAAC.

Corpus Playroom, 7pm, 26th February – 2nd March, £6/£5

by Alan Bennett

directed by Johnny Falconer and James Browning


A good line from Alan Bennett is like a steaming cup of tea and big sexy kiss at the same time: a delight. Kafka’s Dick has a fair few of these gems, but it is not the best of Bennett’s plays, and this was certainly a solid rather than a sparkling performance.

Jumping space-time and mortality, Kafka, his one Pal and his Pa end up in the suburbs of 1980s Leeds, and all manner of artistic and moral problems arise. Have all the heartfelt promises between best friends been kept? What’s in a name anyway?

One of the main troubles with this production was pacing, and consistently it was the wrong moments that were allowed to drag on. You do not want to feel as though you are living through the full time span (some 60 years) that the play encompasses. As far as I am concerned more stage time should be given to the *live* tortoise. In fact, one of these stars is for the tortoise.

Sydney (Alex Bell) – imagine a blond Chris Addison constantly sniffing – certainly conveyed the worst aspects of the irritating suburban male. His limbs are somewhat terrifying and caused no little nervousness in the front row. When he did contain his manic energy, self-reverence, amusement, and an utter lack of sensitivity shone through. While it may be a surreal play, it was always the way Bennett manages to point out how the mundane keeps close company with art that raised laughter.

Linda (Maeve Hannah) brought a sense of the ‘ordinary’ to the Leeds home. The character of the wholesome and practical nurse, both intellectually and sexually frustrated largely rang true. Her opening lines were particularly strong as she described the suicidal tendencies of the tortoise (I do love that tortoise) and she had charm. Yet awkward physicality, partly exaggerated by placing an over-sized armchair in the middle of small stage, let both her character and the production down. One frequently felt that actors knew neither how nor where to stand.

The set had some elegant features, making a clever use of limited space. The most impressive idea was the ‘garden cupboard’, which was painted to mimic a conservatory from the inside out. However, like the performance, the set lacked unity or even jarring dissimilarity. The ‘front door’, ‘smeg fridge’ and ‘garden’ which played on boundaries and expectation were let down by an ugly set of shelves at the wrong height and the enormous chair.

Like a creepy – and, of course, Kafkaesque – spider,  Luke Sumner’s Max was the driving force of the production. His controlled sarcasm and vigor were consistent and well timed throughout, and he made the most ordinary lines bright and funny without undermining other performers. His acting illustrated something this production did not grasp: tedium can be done well, or rather expressed well, in a remarkably short time.

All in all the show was a bit like the script’s sarcastic suggestion that prisoners should be made to read Proust. It felt like a long sentence with bad punctuation, but ultimately good words.