Family affairs

The cast of Kafka v Kafka with Michael Loughnan second from left and Adam Henderson Scott far right
The cast of Kafka v Kafka with Michael Loughnan second from left and Adam Henderson Scott far right

By David Hennessy

4 stars

Dilated Theatre are currently presenting an intriguing production based on Franz Kafka’s A Letter to My Father.

Kafka v Kafka, starring and produced by Adam Henderson Scott who previously starred in The Playboy of the Western World,  shows a confrontation between author Franz Kafka and his father Herman Kafka but it is a communication where understanding is very rare.

Although Herman refers to the meeting as a trial and those there to hear it as judge or jury, Franz is quick to answer it is “not even a preliminary hearing, just a communication”.

Franz is puzzled as to why he has never felt love from his father and brings up incidents from his childhood when his father embarrassed him or failed to show him affection. Herman, reserved and almost apologetic, explains that this was not his intention. However, when pushed on the topic, Herman shows he is capable of fierce rage towards his son. The Irish actor Michael Loughnan plays his father Herman Kafka with restraint, although he builds to explosive and startling eruptions of rage.

Adam Henderson Scott goes through the range of emotions within this play, showing sensitivity and another convincing accent as he plays this role with a well spoken Southern English accent after he displayed an impressive Irish accent in Playboy (Adam is originally from Newcastle).

The twist is in that this meeting never happened anywhere other than the author’s head.

Although there is an excellent supporting cast playing Franz’s mother and sister and other characters, the back and forth between Franz and Herman is all important here. Set entirely in one room, the onus is put squarely on performance. Henderson Scott and Loughnan do well to absorb the audience into their family affairs and it is easy to relate and sympathise with both.

The small space is well used with use of lights and music adding to the drama. The piece is directed by London-Irish James O’Donnell who has previously directed a reimagining of The Cherry Orchard and The Parasite.

Franz Kafka is hailed by many as one of the greatest writers of the 20th century and the godfather of existentialist literature. He was 36 when he was driven to write a letter to the father that he feared, addressing his harsh and authoritarian treatment of his son and the humiliations he inflicted on him. The letter, over 100 pages long, was read by his sister and his mother, but not one word was read by his father.

In the play, Henderson Scott’s Franz talks about how he felt so insignificant and weak when standing beside his powerful father in changing rooms. This hints that the writer suffered from Body Dysmorphic Disorder as well as depression.

All in all, this is an insightful piece about the mind of one of literature’s greats.

Kafka v Kafka, by Howard Colyer based on Franz Kafka’s A Letter to My Father, is at Etcetera Theatre, 265 Camden High Street (above the Oxford Arms, until November 16. http://www.kafkavkafka.com/

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