Theatre: Never mind the size, feel the quality

KAFKA'S DICK PICCADILLY THEATRE

LONDON

KAFKA CAN never have imagined that one day English theatre audiences would be treated to an intellectual romp that revolved round the puny size of his penis. But then he didn't want posterity to know about his work, let alone the intimate details of his life. Or so he liked to claim.

The first scene of Kafka's Dick - Alan Bennett's brilliantly entertaining play - is set in Prague in 1920 and casts comical doubt on the sincerity with which the Czech author ordered his friend, Max Brod, to burn all his writings. What follows is an uproarious reflection on two main themes: the ambivalent attitude of writers to fame, and the English vice of prurient literary biography.

Diminishing the surprise element, Peter Hall's revival tips you off from the outset about the cheeky fantastical scenario the play will create for its farcical frolickings with these issues. Dimly discernible behind the 1920 Prague episode, there is a present day suburban English lounge and a middle-aged man reading. He's Sydney, an insurance agent, a devoted Kafka buff and the kind of man who would rather know that Auden never wore underpants than read a line of his poetry.

Via a naughty nod to Metamorphosis (cue tortoise), the play spirits the two writers into this world. Still unwitting of his posthumous celebrity, our shrinking genius will be horrified when he notices all those books about him - won't he?

Often blissfully funny, Hall's production suffers from some peculiar casting. More Pitlochry than Prague, and a past master of gangling low- key charm, John Gordon-Sinclair is not everybody's idea of a self-torturing, Jewish intellectual. You might as well cast Jimmy Stewart as Wittgenstein. And Michael Byrne needs to be more obscenely overbearing and emasculating as Kafka's self-made father, who arrives on the scene and threatens to reveal the secret of his son's tiny willy unless Kafka rewrites literary history and tells everyone they got on swimmingly.

By contrast, Julia McKenzie's radiantly winning ordinariness is ideal for Linda, Sydney's frustrated wife. Hilariously blossoming in Kafka's company, she bustles about trying to tempt the anorexic genius with "something different I do with avocados" and, as she tucks into a box of Black Magic, chattily informs him that "your constipation is in textbooks".

McKenzie also beautifully conveys that Linda is far shrewder than the educated types around her. Men, she notes, have to make a song and dance about being insignificant, and re-imagine themselves as cockroaches, beetles and apes. But women just get on with it.

Forever losing his grip on his zimmer frame as he reels from the latest shock, Eric Sykes is hilarious as the bewildered old father who believes that he will be put into a home unless he can keep abreast of front-line developments in Kafka studies. Ending in a gloriously camp VIP cocktail party heaven ("Go easy on those cheese straws, Mahatma!"), the play is a tricky mix of flurrying farce and post-graduate revue.

Keeping the energy level up can be a problem, but not when you have Jason Watkins's excellently vehement and Vaudevillian Brod around. One last point: exactly how long was Kafka's dick? I'll let you into a secret: it was 125 minutes long.

A version of this review appeared in later editions of yesterday's paper

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmWith comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Off set: Bab El Hara
tvTV series are being filmed outside the country, but the influence of the regime is still being felt
Arts and Entertainment
Red Bastard: Where self-realisation is delivered through monstrous clowning and audience interaction
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rhino Doodle by Jim Carter (Downton Abbey)

TV
Arts and Entertainment
No Devotion's Geoff Rickly and Stuart Richardson
musicReview: No Devotion, O2 Academy Islington, London
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

film
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian 'Weird Al' Yankovic

Is the comedy album making a comeback?

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in the first-look Fifty Shades of Grey movie still

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, centre, are up for Best Female TV Comic for their presenting quips on The Great British Bake Off

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

film
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'

film
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>

film
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book

books
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

    The air strikes were tragically real

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns
    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

    Britain as others see us

    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

    Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
    How did our legends really begin?

    How did our legends really begin?

    Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
    Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
    A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

    A new Russian revolution

    Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
    Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
    Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

    Standing my ground

    If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
    Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

    Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

    The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
    The man who dared to go on holiday

    The man who dared to go on holiday

    New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

    For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
    The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

    The Guest List 2014

    Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
    Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

    Jokes on Hollywood

    With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on