IN THE PENAL COLONY
by Franz Kafka adapted by Amir Nizar Zuabi.
Young Vic Theatre (The Maria) 66 The Cut SE1 8LZ To 23 July 2011.
Mon-Sat 7.45pm Mat Wed & Sat 2.45pm.
Runs 1hr No interval.
TICKETS: 020 7922 2922.
Review: Carole Woddis 14 July .
Powerful political statement from Kafka story.
Franz Kafka’s short story In the Penal Colony (written 1914, published in 1919) gets an extraordinary stage version from the Palestinian company, ShiberHur. Last year they brought I am Yusuf and This Is My Brother to the Young Vic – a poetic, metaphorical rendering of the country’s partition in 1948. In the Penal Colony proves at once both more sophisticated in treatment if politically more obtuse.
An intense account featuring a Prisoner, his Executioner and a Visitor, Kafka’s initial story seems to have been influenced by a short story The Torture Garden (1899) by the French journalist and writer, Octave Mirabeau – a damning, nihilistic indictment of state-run institutions with Sadean/Mishima undertones regarding torture and execution, and written at the height of the Dreyfus affair in France.
Curiously, ShiberHur – it means `an inch of freedom’ – director and adaptor Amir Nizar Zuabi shifts Kafka’s emphasis. There is still Kafka’s instinctive hatred of institutional facelessness but this version unlike the original finishes optimistically, on a note of liberty.
Taher Najib’s skeletal condemned man, initially seen (like Lucky inSamuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot) tethered and whipped by the Executioner, now encircles the stage free of his oppressor’s rope. Everything you need to know exists in the rise and fall of Najib’s bony shoulders. Amer Hiehel’s Executioner meanwhile substitutes himself inside the torture machine which kills slowly over 12 hours.
Quite how you read this scenario may depend on your perspective. Makram Khoury’s impassive if compassionate Visitor may or may not be a comment on the West’s collusion, while the Prisoner and Executioner may suggest obvious political counterparts in Palestinian and Israeli respectively.
There is no doubt however about the quality of Zuabi’s terrifying yet beautiful production. Designer Ashraf Hanna’s field of sunflowers is set against the dreaded machine and a stack of chairs to which Jackie Shemesh’s lighting gives a silver-blue gleam suggesting the urban Palestinian/Israeli skyline.
At the very least a damning portrait of man’s inhumanity to man, the performances, especially Hiehel’s stocky Executioner, almost poetic about the religious ecstasy achieved individually and collectively by the infliction of pain, creates uncomfortable implications about the intermediaries in our own society who inflict punishment in our name.
The Prisoner: Taher Najib.
The Executioner: Amer Hiehel.
The Visitor: Makram Khoury.
Director: Amir Nizar Zuabi.
Designer: Ashraf Hanna.
Lighting: Jackie Shemesh.
Musical Director: Rimon Hadad.
In the Penal Colony is part of ‘Shubbak: A Window on Contemporary Arab Culture’, running in London 4-24 July 2011, involving visual arts, film, music, theatre, dance, literature, architecture, lectures and discussion.
First performance of this production of In the Penal Colony 11 July 2011 in The Maria, Young Vic Theatre, London.