Kafka and Son

A nightmarish exploration of the author's dad issues

★★★
theatre review (edinburgh) | Read in About 2 minutes
Published 05 Aug 2011
33332 large
102793 original

The veneer of tragedy that surrounds Franz Kafka, venerated after death when much of his work was published, also permeates this openly symbolic one-hander performed by Canadian actor Alon Nashman. Modulating his voice betwixt father and son, Nashman paints a grim portrait of the notoriously destabilising, dysfunctional relationship Kafka endured with his father Hermann: a brash, muscular, arrogant and overbearing man to whom Kafka eventually confessed in a letter: “All my writing is about you.”

That 50-page letter was never delivered, but offers a telling insight into the timidity and introspective nature of a Jewish genius with acute dad issues and provides some rich material for the evening’s performance.

Roughly wrought wire mesh furniture, redolent of his literal and figurative imprisonment, lies strewn about the stage. Nashman uses these to vent Kafka’s frustrations and feelings of hopelessness, as Hermann lambasts his son’s eating habits, religious conviction, intellectual rigour and inclinations to marry. The pattern is established, and repeated, early. Familiar Kafka themes then emerge from the debris: the absurdity of the mundane, a satirisation of bureaucracy, a peppering of surrealist humour and a final feathery flight from his familial predicament.

It’s appropriately nightmarish stuff that relies on at least a working knowledge of Kafka’s work, but having shone a light on this pivotal, destructive relationship, there seems little to conclude save that which is already widely known. Instead, we’re left with Nashman’s own love letter to the great existentialist writer, which—despite his wholly convincing duel performance—isn’t quite as revelatory as might be hoped.