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Kafka's Dick at Salisbury Playhouse
Gregory Fox-Murphy as Kafka and Colin Prockter as Herman K
The play ends in heaven with a riotous cocktail party
Alan Bennett's play opens in 1919 with a tubercular Franz Kafka persuading his friend to swear to burn all Kafka's work after his death.

The story is then transported to present day Leeds where the two friends meet again
FACTS

Salisbury Playhouse until Saturday 6 July.

Cast: Gregory Fox-Murphy, Julian Littman, Susan Tordoff, Ken Ratcliffe, Michael Hadley & Colin Prockter.

Directed by Jacob Murray.

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Yes, the title of the play means just what you may expect, although this juxtapositioning of the name of Kafka with schoolboy terminology may discourage the intellectual yet offend the prudish.

The play is a strange yet engaging piece which received mixed reviews when it opened in the West End.

You will either like it or loathe it.

So what is it all about?

Gregory Fox-Murphy as Kafka and Susan Tordoff as Linda
Gregory Fox-Murphy as Kafka and Susan Tordoff as Linda

The play opens in Prague in 1920 when a consumptive and wheelchair-bound Kafka contemplates his death and extracts a promise from his friend Max Brod to burn all his manuscripts after his death.

Bennett leaves us uncertain as to whether Kafka is sincere in his request but in any event Brod ignores the request, arranging for posthumous publication of Kafka’s works.

This, together with a biography of his friend, brings Brod fame and fortune.

The otherwise gloom of this opening scene is lightened with Jewish humour. "You look really depressed" says Brod. "Wouldn’t you be depressed? I’m dying" Kafka replies.

The action then leaps to the suburban home of Sydney, who, like Kafka, works in insurance and obsessed with Kafka is in the process of writing an article about him for his professional journal.

The doorbell rings and in bounces a reincarnated Brod who having been caught short has urinated not only on Sydney’s doorstep but on his tortoise.

Michael Hadley as Sidney,  Gregory Fox-Murphy as Kafka and Susan Tordoff as Linda
Michael Hadley as Sidney, Gregory Fox-Murphy as Kafka and Susan Tordoff as Linda

The tortoise promptly metamorphoses into a revived Kafka, a neat reversal of a Kafkaesque literary device.

The play has many such allusions as in the case of Sydney’s aged father who lives in dread of being taken away by Social services to a home.

Ken Ratcliffe, as the father, extracts some of the best laughs of the play from his part, exiting crossly on his Zimmer frame.

The appearance of the reincarnated Kafka prompts frantic and hilarious efforts by Brod and Sydney to hide all evidence of the publication of Kafka’s works, and of Brod’s broken promise.

All to no avail since Kafka finds a book and miserably has to accept his posthumous fame.

Sydney’s wife, Linda, confidence destroyed by the boring Sydney warms to Kafka. "When did you get the writing bug?" she enquires.

Gregory Fox-Murphy as Kafka and Colin Prockter as Herman K
Gregory Fox-Murphy as Kafka and Colin Prockter as Herman K

However, Linda, aware that they should be dead is understandably suspicious of the reincarnated duo and has previously telephoned the police.

They duly arrive in the larger than life person of Kafka’s tyrannical father, a part played with great gusto by the excellent Colin Prockter.

The play ends in Heaven with a riotous cocktail party, God naturally being in the person of Kafka’s father complete with illuminated halo.

"Go easy on the cheese straws" says God. "Heaven is going to be hell" says a glum Kafka.

Although the play is at all times humorous Bennett takes a serious point.

Is the private life – here the anatomy of the writer – more important than his work? Are we too obsessed with who slept with whom rather than with their achievements?

All in all a play which may not be for everyone but which is at worst thought provoking and at best intelligent and humorously entertaining.


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