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Kafka's Dick

Alan Bennett
BBC Audio
(2006)

It hardly seems worth mentioning that this intellectual comedy is rather quirky. That is how Alan Bennett writes and why he is so well loved.

Even so, a plot in which three characters come back from the dead, one reincarnated through a tortoise, is hardly common in mainstream drama.

The indisputably living characters in this play are husband-and-wife Sydney and Linda, a very ordinary couple burdened by the presence of his ageing and very dotty father. Insurance man Sydney's one distinguishing characteristic is a love for the works of Franz Kafka and a desire to write a definitive article about him.

However, is not easy to write something new about a man whose every word, movement and even body part has been pored over for decades.

The solution seems to arrive in the person of Max Brod, Kafka's only friend and posthumous biographer, as well as the man who rescued his canon from the fiery destruction laid down in the writer's will.

Michael Cochrane's Brod seems a strange, if lively enough, character for somebody who has been dead for years, and Sydney is soon learning many original secrets about the mysterious Franz Kafka.

However, something is still missing and this arrives courtesy of a tortoise symbolically converted into Kafka after Brod urinates on it.

Then the fun really begins, to start with as the others try to keep the non-destruction of Kafka's works from him.

From there, the play develops into a meditation on fame and posterity as well as the writings of one of the greatest men of the 20th century.

Gordon House's Radio 4 production, first heard in 1991, has a distinguished cast led by Nigel Anthony in the title role receiving tremendous support from two tremendous character actors, Richard Griffiths and Alison Steadman as the married couple. The older generation also have their moments particularly Peter Woodthorpe as Kafka's malicious father Hermann K, who, like his son, appears mysteriously from thin air.

Throughout, Alan Bennett's very dry sense of humour crackles along making this a richly enjoyable audio experience.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher