REVIEW – Kafka’s Monkey (HOME, Manchester)

Kathryn Hunter in Kafka's Monkey. Photograph Tristram Kenton
Kathryn Hunter in Kafka’s Monkey.
Photograph Tristram Kenton
 Date: 17 JUNE 2015
Upstaged Rating: 

There are not many performers who could accomplish what Kathryn Hunter has achieved in this version of Kafka’s A Report to an Academy, interpreted for the stage by Colin Teevan and masterfully directed by Walter Meierjohann – her transformation to a monkey is beyond physically impressive. Hunter is wholly mesmerising throughout the performance- from the top of her jaunty bowler hat right down to the tips of her crooked fingers when she extends her hand to greet. She holds a command over the language and projects it with a rich and expressive tone of voice and incredible physicality. From the moment that we first see her shuffle across the stage, her body depicts a bewildered beast trapped halfway between ape and human. Hunter performs with wit and precision – furrowing her brow, her arms swinging and contorting uncomfortably and her loping gait – every sinew of her body works to create an entity trapped between the two different states of being. Startled by the world, she exhales heavily through her nostrils admitting that questioning freedom “leads to the most profound disillusionment”.

Monkey tells the story of an ape that is captured in Africa and in order to survive decides to learn how to behave like a human being. It is a solo performance that runs for just under an hour during which Kathryn Hunter’s Monkey addresses an audience in a lecture hall. We are that audience and we are referred to as ‘esteemed members of The Academy’.

Hunter is supported by Nikola Kodjabashia’s hypnotic piano score and Steffi Wurster’s simple set design which uses a projection of a monkey caged by a light box, this allows the monkey to relate to her former self, before she decided to behave like a human, and also gives the sense of a contemporary academy. Mike Gunning’s striking lighting design moves through from a crisp spotlight during a jovial tap dancing routine to majestic silhouettes which appear to tower down over the half-woman, half-ape.

This is a rare treat for a Manchester audience and if there is anything that you need to see at the theatre this summer – Kafka’s Monkey is that. And now I am totally convinced that this production puts our new arts space HOME on the map and most certainly for me ‘there was no place like HOME’ yesterday evening.

-Kristy Stott

Kafka’s Monkey is running at HOME until 27 June 2015.

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