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

Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey

film Sex scene trailer sees a shirtless Jamie Dornan turn up the heat

Arts and Entertainment
A sketch of Van Gogh has been discovered in the archives of Kunsthalle Bremen in Germany
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Eleanor Catton has hit back after being accused of 'treachery' for criticising the government.
books
Arts and Entertainment
Fake Banksy stencil given to artist Alex Jakob-Whitworth

art

Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is heading to Norwich for Radio 1's Big Weekend

music
Arts and Entertainment
Beer as folk: Vincent Franklin and Cyril Nri (centre) in ‘Cucumber’
tvReview: This slice of gay life in Manchester has universal appeal
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
‘A Day at the Races’ still stands up well today
film
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tvAnd its producers have already announced a second season...
Arts and Entertainment
Kraftwerk performing at the Neue Nationalgalerie (New National Gallery) museum in Berlin earlier this month
musicWhy a bunch of academics consider German electropoppers Kraftwerk worthy of their own symposium
Arts and Entertainment
Icelandic singer Bjork has been forced to release her album early after an online leak

music
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth as Harry Hart in Kingsman: The Secret Service

film
Arts and Entertainment
Brian Blessed as King Lear in the Guildford Shakespeare Company's performance of the play

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
In the picture: Anthony LaPaglia and Martin Freeman in 'The Eichmann Show'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Kirkbride and Bill Roache as Deirdre and Ken Barlow in Coronation Street

tvThe actress has died aged 60
Arts and Entertainment
Marianne Jean-Baptiste defends Joe Miller in Broadchurch series two

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The frill of it all: Hattie Morahan in 'The Changeling'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny may reunite for The X Files

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
TV
News
A young woman punched a police officer after attending a gig by US rapper Snoop Dogg
people
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
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.

    Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

    Isis hostage crisis

    The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
    Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

    The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

    Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
    Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

    Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

    This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
    Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

    Cabbage is king again

    Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
    11 best winter skin treats

    Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

    Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
    Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

    Paul Scholes column

    The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
    Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

    Frank Warren's Ringside

    No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
    Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

    Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
    Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
    Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

    Comedians share stories of depression

    The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
    Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

    Has The Archers lost the plot?

    A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
    English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

    14 office buildings added to protected lists

    Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee