Kafka's Monkey is based on Franz Kafka's short story entitled "A Report to An Academy". It is a solo show featuring Kathryn Hunter in which her character - an ape - tells his story of how he was captured, gradually transformed into a man and became a music hall entertainer.
Mystified? Read on...
From the very start of this show, Kathryn Hunter's performance is absolutely breath-taking and mesmerising. You cannot take your eyes off her - and not just because she is the only performer. Her physical agility is unbelievable and she is completely compelling and convincing as an ape (this is actually meant to be flattering!)
The ape (whose ape name is Red Peter) comes onto the stage dressed in a tail suit, complete with bowler hat and cane and carrying a suitcase. He has come to address us, "the esteemed members of the Academy". His entrance is understated, cautious, respectful and quite endearing. He takes two bows in order to elicit a wary round of applause from the audience.
He tells his story of capture by hunters off the Gold Coast and his transport by ship to Hamburg where he is destined to be put on the stage or in a zoo. He describes his journey in a cage on the steamer without bitterness, although his description of his confinement is heart wrenching and he reverts to ape-like movements and sounds as he relives the more distressing memories.
He explains how in order to escape his confinement, he had to stop being an ape and learn how to imitate men...by spitting, smoking a pipe and drinking rum. There is a touching moment when he relives the time he was handed the rum bottle by one of his captors...this produced a sympathetic "ahhhh" from the audience. Even when the ape is describing how his fur was intentionally burned with a pipe by one of the captors, he does so without anger or resentment but with a quiet acceptance.
On the lighter side, we see the ape dance with a cane, moonwalk and do the splits - not something you see every day.
Towards the end of the 55 minute show, the ape becomes more vocal about his feelings towards humanity and confesses that he can barely stop himself from retching after contact with humans and the show finishes with him pleading with the audience to "smell me" - one of the few moments where his sadness and loss are very apparent and he cannot contain them.
There is interaction with the audience at various points (you may wish to avoid the front row if the thought of this terrifies you!), including a comic moment when one member of the audience is examined for fleas...
The set is bare and almost empty but it doesn't need to be anything other than this. The lighting is used effectively to produce fascinating shadows and provokes a feeling of isolation at certain points. There is some music, used to emphasise and punctuate certain aspects of the dialogue: this is unobtrusive and complements the performance.
There are moments of comedy in this show and moments of great pathos. It is a strange story told from an unusual perspective and is not something that would leap out of a programme as a "must see". However, the performance of Kathryn Hunter is something that should definitely not be missed.
Reviewed: 17 June 2015
Reviewer: Nicky Lambert