Kafka’s Dick at Bath Theatre Royal

Kafka's Dick - Elliot Levey (Brod), Daniel Weyman (Kafka) - Photo credit Nobby Clark - (ref11)ALAN Bennett’s 1986 play Kafka’s Dick not only predates the British writer’s position as national treasure but allowed him to explore both his fascination with the Czech’s work but his views on intellectualism and pretentiousness.

It is one of his least performed works, but audiences in the south west have a chance to catch up with David Grindley’s production, second in Bath Theatre Royal’s summer season and on until 26th July.

It all starts in around 1919 as the ailing Kafka asks his only friend Max Brod to be sure to burn all his works when he dies.

Fast forward to Yorkshire in 1986, where insurance man Sydney, his downtrodden wife Linda and his father live a strange attritional life powered by Sydney’s selfish obsession with Kafka. Father is about to be consigned to a home, though he’s doing his best to prove he has enough sandwiches for a picnic.

KD - Samantha Spiro as Linda - Photo credit Nobby Clark (ref28a)

When the doorbell rings, they all think it’s the dementia assessor, but it’s much worse. It’s an incontinent Brod, followed by a shape-shifting Kafka, and then the dead writer’s notorious father.

This surreal soup allows Bennett some hilariously Kafkaesque moments, some bitingly funny lines and real poignancy, hurling questions of celebrity, recognition, female intuition and familial dynamics into the air.

The finale is a coup de theatre con brio.

Daniel Weyman looks extraordinarily like the real Kafka, with Elliot Levey as Brod and Matthew Kelly filling the stage as the ghastly Herman.

Samantha Spiro and Nicholas Burns are an embarrassingly recognisable couple, with Barry McCarthy enjoying his time on the Zimmer – and off it.

KD - Nicholas Burns (Sydney) Matthew Kelly (Hermann) - Photo credit Nobby Clark (ref16)

As the woman behind me said, this is not Bennett as we know it, but it’s a fascinating look at how the playwright teased and toyed with his art, comparing it with Kafka’s own, work he admired and sometimes emulated.

These are terrific performances in a rare play, and well worth a visit.


Photographs by Nobby Clark

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