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Kafka at Finborough Theatre | Review

Franz Kafka was a Bohemian, German speaking novelist, playwright and writer from Prague who died one hundred years ago from tuberculosis at the age of forty. He was a major influence on others such as Samuel Beckett, Eugene Ionesco, Harold Pinter and other masters of “Theatre of the Absurd” and spent pages and pages of writing trying to puzzle out the mystery of the effect of stage shows and how human beings transformed others by transforming themselves.

Jack Klaff in Kafka. Photo credit: Marilyn Kingwill.
Jack Klaff in Kafka. Photo credit: Marilyn Kingwill.

In 1983 Jack Klaff devised, wrote and performed Kafka at the Cheltenham Literary Festival, since when it has rarely been seen  until now. To be frank, it is very difficult to describe this ninety minute, one-person play. To start with, it seems a great deal shorter than one and a half hours as time just flies. This is because there is so much energy on stage for the entire time. I suppose the play is the life story and influence of Kafka, except that the story is told not just by Klaff, but also by over fifty others, including, as one might expect, his friend Max Brod, as well as a dog, an ape, Albert Einstein, Orson Welles, Alan Bennett and many, many others, some of whom are unnamed, all of whom are portrayed onstage with great gusto by Klaff. One feels exhausted by the pace at which the piece moves and continually wonders how Klaff is able to exude so much power for so long but you feel you have to watch as you quickly get caught up in the enthusiasm and knowledge he has of his subject. In addition, you feel that he is telling his tale, or perhaps giving his lecture, for that is what it almost is, especially for you, as Klaff has a knack of getting brief eye contact with every member of the audience at some time or another. It is of course, a piece of absurdist theatre in itself!

It is quite an intellectual piece of performing artistry and I would suggest that if you know little or nothing of Kafka you do some research before going to the Finborough Theatre as you will get so much more out of the evening. Klaff’s play is very funny at times, as is Klaff himself, but he is also poignant and even though the piece appears to be paced with few moments for reflection, in fact, there are: both Klaff and the audience do need pause for thought occasionally.

Clearly, director and lighting designer Colin Watkeys understands exactly what Klaff is trying to do – and more than succeeding. I guarantee you will never have seen a piece of theatre quite like this. Very highly recommended!

5 Star Rating

Review by John Groves

Kafka is a one person show about a genius who loved one person shows. This work, Kafka, is the theatrical event of Kafka’s centenary year.

Franz Kafka is still the presiding genius of experimental storytelling in the West.

A hundred years on from his untimely and painful death at the age of just 40, Kafka remains the voice of the outsider and the disempowered – struggling between the agony of solitude and the pains of intimacy, isolated in the big city and in the world, whilst never quite forgetting the mordant humour, the absurdity, of existence.

Bonne Idée Productions in association with Neil McPherson for the Finborough Theatre
Adapted, Scripted and Performed by Jack Klaff
Directed by Colin Watkeys

118 Finborough Road
SW10 9ED
Tuesday 11 June – Saturday 6 July 2024


  • John Groves

    John Groves studied singing with Robert Easton and conducting with Clive Timms. He was lucky enough to act in the British premiere of a Strindberg play at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe more years ago than he cares to remember, as well as singing at the Royal Opera House - once! He taught drama and music at several schools, as well as examining the practical aspects of GCSE and A level drama for many years. For twenty five years he has conducted a brass band as well as living on one of the highest points of East Sussex surrounded by woodland, deer, foxes and badgers, with kites and buzzards flying overhead.

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