Alan Bennett is in two minds about most things - including the value of being in two minds. From his seriously comic dilemma, the deep attractiveness of his work springs, and nowhere more so than in Kafka's Dick (1986). Divertingly revived now by Philip Franks, this most intelligent of intellectual farces gives the great - and greatly agonised - Czech author a fantasticated posthumous lease of life (after a transformation that's a skit on Metamorphosis) in the suburban Leeds living-room of an insurance man who is toiling away at an article on Kafka (himself an insurance man) for Small Print, a trade journal.
Bennett's Kafka (Alistair McGowan) has already revealed his comic-neurotic ambivalence towards fame in a prologue set in 1919, wherein the tubercular and then hardly published author is seen enjoining his friend Max Brod - written and played (by Paul Raffield) as a vaudeville Jewish comic - to burn all his manuscripts after his death. The self-protective vanity of not wanting to survive is, we discern, more than a little compromised by the vanity of furtively wishing to be remembered.
It is Bennett's brilliantly funny conceit to put this contradictoriness to the test by propelling a resurrected Kafka and Brod into the present and depositing them in the home of an amateur literary buff, Sydney (Michael Thomas), whose officious, anoraky fascination with the vast Kafka industry is calculated to horrify the squeamish genius. After all, when he arrives in English suburbia, he doesn't yet know that Brod disobeyed his final entreaty, and there's a nice flurry of physical farce when the panic-stricken friend and Sydney struggle to divest the shelves of a legion of books about Kafka before their subject can alight on them.
Franks's enjoyable production isn't always successful in maintaining the energy level of a play that is full of pointed and provocative intellectual music-hall but a bit short on momentum. And the delightful Susie Blake isn't down-to-earth Northern enough to be ideal casting for Sydney's frustrated wife Linda, who, unliterary herself, has the important role of being more perceptive than any of the literary types at hand. "Like all men," she tells Kafka, "you believe your despair is important. You think you're insignificant, but you're insignificance is not insignificant."
Kafka's over-bearing patriarch (splendid David Hargreaves) enters the proceedings and threatens to disclose to the world the shameful secret of the author's tiny penis unless Kafka perjures himself and revises literary history by claiming that they enjoyed excellent father-son relations. His long thin body constantly buckling into a terrified question-mark, McGowan's Kafka is, eventually, put behind a Zimmer-frame dock in a play that, with a larky incisive wit, puts many issues - the obsession with intrusive biography; the damned-either-way fate of a genius's parents - on trial. Knowingly implicated in many of the things it questions (those two minds again), the comedy ends in a very camp heaven where (what a relief, what a privation!) there's no literature at all.
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