Kafka's Dick

Tue 29th November – Sat 3rd December 2011


Joshua Phillips

at 22:40 on 29th Nov 2011



One morning, a urine-soaked tortoise awoke from uneasy dreams to find that he had been transformed into Franz Kafka. What follows is an hour-and-a-half madcap excursion on the nature of many disparate things, including fame, friendship, sub-par parental relationships and Franz Kafka’s member.

The setting is a suburban house, somewhere in Yorkshire, inhabited by Sydney (Alex Stutt), an insurance salesman and part-time Kafka obsessive, his wife, Linda (Lara McIvor), an ex-nurse, whom he patronises, belittles and condescends to reading “the interesting bits” out for, and Sydney’s father (John Kallaugher), who obsesses over being put into a home. Enter Max Brod (Peter Huhne), Franz Kafka’s “only friend”, and an egotistical, womanising, narcissistic sod. Sydney is duly impressed; left agog, rather. Then, enter the man himself: Franz Kafka (Sanjay Mewada), emerging transmogrified from an unremarkable, if urine-soaked, turtle (Susan). Sydney is over the moon. Then, entering the fray, Hermann K., (Samuel Ereira), Kafka’s estranged father. Sydney, as a keen student of Kafka, can’t contain himself: here is an opportunity to challenge the assumptions made by decades of Franz Kafka critics; Kafka himself is less than thrilled: his eponymous organ will not go without being mentioned.

A comedy as madcap as Bennett’s relies on two factors: timing, and bombast, and the cast performing at the Burton Taylor manage to pull both of these off to perfection. In particular, Peter Huhne is excellent as Brod: one minute a smooth talking egotist, frustrated with his lack of recognition; the next a maniacal dervish, a vortex of furious energy, bouncing first off of Sydney, full of ridiculous schemes to keep Kafka from knowing that he had never burnt his writings, and then off of Kafka, eager for recognition. Equally full of bombast and devilish schemes is Ereira, as Hermann K., vying for the fame and fortune that ought to be his; he is his son’s father, after all.

A counter to all this ridiculous energy is to be found in Sanjay Mewada’s Kafka. As quiet as his father is loud; as self-effacing as Brod is narcissistic, Mewada acts with the quiet, nervous tension that characterises Kafka’s writings, standing quietly and wringing his hands as everyone claims their stake in Franz Kafka, a claim that Kafka himself did not want to make. Alex Stutt and Lara McIvor, as Sydney and Linda respectively, play baffled onlookers, spectators to this bizarre literary picnic who just happen to be hosting it. As much as Sydney is concerned with Kafka, Franz Kafka, there, in his house, Linda is concerned with why Kafka and Brod might be in their house: are they confidence tricksters, are they thieves? Eventually, she grows to like this strange, nervy dead man in her house, however, and maybe even to love him.

Is this play perfect? Probably not. However, is this play ninety minutes of sheer, mad fun? Yes. Will it make you laugh? Yes. Will you come out smiling, your day brightened? Yes. Should you see this play? A whole-hearted, resounding yes.


Victoria Weavil

at 09:14 on 30th Nov 2011



Why bother reading an author’s books at all when you can simply dazzle everyone around you with a select choice of juicy facts about their most intimate secrets? Try the size of Kafka’s penis, for example, or the fact that W. H. Auden never wore underpants. Gossip, and not intellectualism, is after all what really gets us going in this celebrity-driven, entertainment-hungry world of ours.

In a perfect fusion of the comic and the serious, ‘Kafka’s Dick’ offers a hilarious approach to some pretty hefty (and highly topical) questions. Why is it, for one, that intellectualism gets such a bad rap in the public eye? And what is it about fame - that fickle friend we so love to hate - that we find so very hard to resist? Written by Alan Bennett in 1986 and first produced in the Royal Court that same year, this is at heart a play about fame, all the pros and cons it brings with it, and an author’s relationship to his work; all rounded off with a spot of penis envy, some light-hearted flirtation, and a wayward tortoise thrown in for good measure, of course.

Boasting first-rate acting and a perfect mastery of the full comic force of this animated script, Ellie Keel and Tris Puri’s production at the BT Studio this week is not to be missed.

The plot essentially revolves around the relationship between Franz Kafka (Sanjay Mewada) and his life-long friend and publisher Max Brod (Peter Huhne). Caught up in an ongoing dispute over whether or not Brod has fulfilled his promise of burning all of Kafka’s manuscripts, we witness the pair make an utterly surreal yet somehow remarkably convincing descent upon the modern-day Yorkshire home of insurance salesman Sydney (Alex Stutt), and his intellectually stifled wife Linda (Lara McIvor), an ex-nurse. Bickering away in typical married-couple fashion, they are a thoroughly normal couple leading thoroughly normal lives. That is, until the long-dead Max Brod turns up, urinates on their doorstep and forces his way into their home bearing nothing but a urine-saturated tortoise in his arms, at any rate. Brod is swiftly followed by Kafka himself – whom Sydney immediately assails with a barrage of questions he’s been meaning to clear up for the article he is writing for the “Journal of Insurance Studies” - and, last but not least, Kafka’s father masquerading as a policeman.

And so what with tortoises magically transforming into famous authors and a final scene featuring sparkling halos, Dostoevsky having a chat with Noël Coward, and Leonard Woolf doing the chacha, things quickly take a turn for the surreal in this bizarre “posthumous cocktail party”. Yet somehow it all remains astonishingly convincing.

Treating the audience to a steady stream of perfectly timed witty one-liners, each and every member of the cast delivers a first-rate performance, excelling both in their own rights and as an ensemble. Huhne deserves special praise, however, for his dynamic, utterly absorbing performance as Max Brod, with his infectious energy serving to lift the dynamic each and every time he appears on stage. Further tribute goes to Mewada for his persuasive portrayal of the melancholic, self-absorbed Kafka tormented by his very existence in the world (“I’ve added so many words to the world I’ve made it heavier!” he bemoans). McIvor – the only female member of the cast – delivers a stellar performance as the unintentionally hilarious Linda (“I’ve never liked the word penis. I don’t mind the pee.. after all that’s what it’s for. It’s the –nis I somehow don’t like” she muses at one point, with a look of complete seriousness on her face).

Boasting first-rate acting, a scintillating script, and the added bonus of a serious, not to mention extremely pertinent, underlying message to round it all off, this production is near impossible to fault. The perfect end-of-term treat!



Jane Sutton; 30th Nov 2011; 11:50:07

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