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Kafka's Monkey at HOME Theatre - Review

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by David Keyworth (subscribe)
I’m a freelance journalist and published poet, based in Manchester. My debut poetry pamphlet is available at
Published June 19th 2015
Monkey to man
In an age where science seems to be making the impossible possible on a daily basis, the idea of a monkey turning human doesn't seem such a tall tale as it might once have done.

Based on the short story, A Report to an Academy, by Franz Kafka, Kathryn Hunter's one-woman tour de force, directed by Walter Meierjohann, draws us in by addressing the audience as 'the esteemed ladies and gentlemen of the academy'. Her character, Red Peter, gives an animated lecture on how he made the transformation.

Kathryn Hunter HOME Kafka's monkey
Kathryn Hunter. Photo by Tristram Kenton.

Hunter has the ability to convey character through movement in a way that Charlie Chaplin might have doffed his hat to. She has obviously studied ape behaviour to the point where it has become second nature to her as an actor.

There are some great moments of humour throughout the performance, including playful interaction with the front row. But the script, an adaptation by Colin Teevan, is underpinned by some deep questions and metaphors. These include racism and exclusion, how different we really are from our simian ancestors and what makes us human. The capacity to enjoy alcohol, or seem to enjoy it, is one crucial part of the Red Peter's absorption into human society.

There is also deep pathos in Hunter's portrayal - Red Peter only started imitating men to stay out of a cage in which he was being transported in a ship. The loneliness of his predicament is revealed as the story develops. We realise he is suspended between not being fully human but also not able to go back to his former life.

The show lasts just under an hour but it leaves us with more food for thought than many three act dramas, with a large cast of characters.

HOME is Manchester's brand new £25 million centre for visual arts, theatre and film. After the performance of Kafka's Monkey on Thursday 25th June, there will be the premiere of a short film starring Kathryn Hunter and directed by Walter Meierjohann, called Dear Anna.
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Why? Compelling one-woman performance
Phone: 0161 200 1500
Where: HOME, Manchester
Cost: From £15, concessions available
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