The anticipation was palpable as the ample crowed bustled into Krudttønden theatre’s intimate surroundings. The upbeat audience appeared primed for an evening of comic absurdity courtesy of the beloved English author and Tony Award-winning playwright Alan Bennett.
Setting the scene
Kafka’s Dick – first staged in 1986 – is a farcical tale about depraved celebrity culture and the modern obsession with fame. Insurance salesman Sydney (Lee Elms) is one such obsessive. Part-time broker, full-time Kafka-fanboy, Sydney believes he shares a peculiar kinship with this authorial figurehead (both men worked in insurance after all).
Pseudo-intellectual Sydney is also the self-proclaimed king of literary gossip. He knows that WH Auden never wore underpants and that Mr Right for EM Forster was an Egyptian tram driver, and yet doesn’t seem to remember the bits in between – the actual works of literature themselves that is! When long-dead Franz Kafka wanders into Sydney’s suburban Yorkshire home – accompanied by his friend and writer Max Brod (Andrew Whalley) – Sydney’s literary knowledge, along with his marriage vows, are put to the test.
The play opens a few years prior to Kafka’s death, with the sickly tuberculosis-ridden writer requesting his friend and confidant Max to destroy all his works and manuscripts – a request that was luckily ignored. This opening scene sets the tone for the dysfunctional co-dependent friendship between the two famed authors that continues the length of the absurd drama. The scene then shifts to the 1980s living room of Sydney and his wife, Linda (Johanne Wang-Holm), where much of the remaining drama takes place.
Lee Elms – complete with a highly authentic Yorkshire accent – gives an impressive performance as the enamoured Kafka disciple.
Pejman Khorsand-Jamal is convincing too as the feigning self-deprecating phantom author.
Hilariously funny throughout, the play’s frequent one-liners – a mixture of lewd gags and high-brow literary references – ensures all the audience members are howling with laughter at some point.
An unexpected element of Frank Theakston’s rendition is that the director himself turns up in the action. In true Kafkaesque fashion, Theakston gallantly takes on the role of Kafka’s tyrannical father, a significant feat for any thespian. His impressive stature lends itself well to the character of Hermann K – a terrifyingly dominant paterfamilias, diminished only slightly by his gruff East-end accent, which seems out-of-kilter with that of his Czech son’s.
The play concludes up in Heaven, with a riotous party scene that bolsters the audience’s energy and ensures the dramatics finish on a high, although Kafka appears wholly unconvinced as he observes: “I’ll tell you something. Heaven is going to be hell.”