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Kafka-ish: Kafka @Finborough

In offering proof that Kafka is everything to everyone - writer-performer Jack Klaff plays various roles, including the man himself in what is a part tour, part immersion and part legend of Franz Kafka. He is a writer who achieved fame after his life was cut short due to succumbing to tuberculosis at the age of forty. He is probably better known for his reputation and the Kafkaesque style attributed to his writing than his life. But after this piece, you’re left curious to learn more about the man and his works. And that has to be the best theatrical tribute you could give a writer, even for a writer who stipulated that his works be destroyed upon his death. It’s currently playing at the Finborough Theatre . Franz Kafka was born in Prague in 1883. In 1901, he was admitted to a university and began studying law. While studying, he met Max Brod, who would become his best friend and eventual literary executor. Brod would posthumously publish many of his works and writings. Kafka’s life co

My night with mum and me sisters: Straight and Narrow @abovethestag

Update: since posting, Above the Stag has announced its permanent closure

Above the Stag Theatre is going all retro with a revival of Jimmie Chinn's Straight and Narrow. Before the show begins, clips from television programmes and commercials are playing from the period to get you in the mood. In case you need to know (or be reminded) about what living in the eighties was like. And while time may not have been too kind to this piece with its views on women and foreigners, this production manages to create a vivid portrait of family dynamics in Manchester.

Set in the 1980s in Manchester, Bob (Lewis Allcock) and Jeff (Todd Von Joel) are long-term boyfriends who also have a successful business installing kitchens. But spending years together doing the same thing every day, they seem stuck in a rut. A trip to Malta is an opportunity to do something differently. But the trip didn't go as either of them was expecting. Things get a bit explosive and emotional on the return. And Bob's mother and two older sisters are there to observe the proceedings. Sex doesn't feature. There's only a passing reference to the AIDS epidemic. And the focus on the family dynamics makes it less My Night with Reg and more My night with mum and my two sisters and their husbands.

Bob also serves as a narrator of the proceedings as time jumps forward and back throughout, explaining how things came about. But the narration also comes with observations and generalisations that seem awkward and dated nowadays. Bob's description of how he longs for food that not even a Wetherspoons would serve these days sounded hilarious. And his craving for a holiday in Blackpool seems quaint in the era of package holidays and massive disruption at Manchester airport.

And while not all the family dynamics are always believable, there are some touching moments too. There's a tacit acknowledgement that even though Bob can't be open and honest to everyone in his family, they love him all the same. 

The production is incredibly detailed, getting the period pieces right. With pastel colours and furnishings, Bob and Jeff's home looks and feels so eighties. You don't often see this amount of detail in a fringe production in London. It's also impressive, given the production only had a week to put everything together.

Directed by Mark Curry, Straight and Narrow was at Above The Stag.


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