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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

Dark Neighbourhoods: Union @Arcolatheatre

A journey through the dystopia known as modern-day London - or at least the stops of gentrification along the Grand Union canal - is at the heart of Union—a provocative look at change, urban renewal and sanitisation. Written by Max Wilkinson, it's currently playing at the Arcola Theatre

The premise is that successful property developer Saskia (Dominique Tipper) is about to sign the deal of her career. She is at the peak of her career and the height of her physical appearance. She asks the audience to check out her stomach as you could "eat an egg off that". But tonight, something isn't quite right. She has decided to go for a run along the Union Canal. She is ignoring calls from her boss and her partner. Having flashbacks and meeting characters along the canal forces her to confront some hard truths. 

It's a fast-paced show with a breathless performance by Tipper in the lead role. She conveys the madness, the enthusiasm and the contradictions of living and working in London. Anyone who has worked in a communications or engagement role (and who hasn't in London?) could see her perspective. Her role in the development company is to do community engagement, ensuring that people disrupted or (even worse) displaced feel good about the developments. Yet the characters along her journey along the canal point out that everything seems the same. The characters are all played by two actors - Sorcha Kennedy and Andrew Bullock -and they keep the momentum through a series of fast-paced changes.

While writer Max Wilkinson puts the developers in the firing line, building blandness and upheaval across London is not just their fault. Geography, low density, an over-regulated planning regime and a dogmatic affection for the green belt are other contributors to the housing crisis. And looking at the more recent regeneration exercises such as Dubai on Thames (otherwise known as Nine Elms), looks more like they have created an outer London suburb in the centre of London. Bereft of shops, people and just another dark neighbourhood - not a place for living but just a place to park your money. All of this probably is beyond the limits of an 80-minute comedy drama. Watching the piece in the Arcola Theatre in Dalston, which has undergone significant urban renewal in the past 20 years with it’s own hip bars and restaurants, also seems unintentionally ironic. 

However what lingers is the vivid depictions of a time and place. It feels like your own Saskia's journey with her. And regardless of its message about change, it's a hell of a time. 

Directed by Wiebke Green, Union, as at the Arcola Theatre until 12 August.


Photos by Lidia Crisafulli

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