by Alan Bennett.
Theatre Royal Sawclose BA1 1ET To 26 July 2014.
Mo-Sat 7.30pm Mat Wed & Sat 2.30pm.
Runs 2hr One interval.
TICKETS: 01225 448844.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 15 July.
Beautifully paced production with lithe performances.
It is strange how loveable Alan Bennett, over the years, has made popular entertainment out of quite rarefied material. Here, he takes a highbrow Czech author, best-known in England as an adjective, and intermingles him with a muck-heap of Bennettian motifs, such as bodily functions, body fluids and physical decrepitude.
All have their place around the Yorkshire middle-class pair the Leeds-born writer presents with detailed accuracy. Here are a self-satisfied male and dissatisfied female in their suburban home; Sydney’s intellect thrives on unfocused literary biography which asks no important questions, while Linda would settle for new furniture and a little more love in their book-lined life.
Meanwhile, they’re carting dad off to a home. Barry McCarthy gains some of the evening’s biggest laughs in an expert performance, but the design doesn’t help him. Robert Innes Hopkins creates a room on a large domestic scale, its one drawback being the ample side entrance from a hallway, which emphasises the arbitrarily placed entrances McCarthy has to take slowly in his infirmity.
It’s more fitting for the other father. Not only do Kafka and his friend, fellow-writer Max Brod, arrive several decades after their deaths to upset cosy Yorkshire life, and expose Sydney’s critical limitations, but, later, Kaka senior arrives, a forbidding presence under whose surface cheer is the constant threat to expose his son’s little secret. It seems Czech writers can also be concerned about personal details.
The dialogue went somewhat loopy for a few moments in the first act on Tuesday, but generally David Grindley’s production shows his accustomed ease and precision with realism (or realistic surfaces) while also skilfully pacing the play’s farcical elements. Samantha Spiro’s Linda mixes puzzlement and goodwill, with Nicholas Burns a suitably obtuse husband.
Their outward manner contrasts the inward anxieties of Daniel Weyman’s inward Kafka and Elliot Levey’s Brod, trying to avoid his friend discovering his books were not destroyed after his death, as ordered, while Matthew Kelly’s ferocious cheer and cutting asides show how fearful a father Hermann must have been.
The final scene is a delightful transformation, both aptly absurd and theatrical heaven.
Kafka: Daniel Weyman.
Brod: Elliot Levey.
Linda: Samantha Spiro.
Father: Barry McCarthy.
Sydney: Nicholas Burns.
Hermann: Matthew Kelly.
Director: David Grindley.
Designer: Robert Innes Hopkins.
Lighting: Jason Taylor.
Sound: Fergus O’Hare.
Associate director: Katherine Gant.