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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

Seconds: Makeshifts and Realities @finborough

The Finborough Theatre presents three short plays about women at the turn of the last century that feels both modern and foreign. The manners and traditions may have changed since the early 1900s. Still, something about the expectations for women and the challenges of being independent resonates today, not at least given the popularity of a particular summer movie

Gertrude Robins wrote the first two pieces. She was an actor who turned to writing plays focussing on issues of the day; she died from tuberculosis in 1917, and performances of her works stopped. Her contribution to theatre may have been forgotten, at least until now. 

The first piece, Makeshifts, introduces us to the Parker sisters, Caroline and Dolly. Caroline is the older sister with her shy demeanour and sense of duty to her family, which includes caring for their older mother and keeping the house in order. While Dolly is a teacher, she notes that "men fight shy of girls like me. They think we're too clever". Neither are married and long past the usual marrying age and barely making do in their lower-middle-class London suburb. Facing a potentially uncertain future without husbands to protect them, they have few choices of men. The ones they know are either dull or dangerous. An evening visit by the smooth-taking gentleman caller Albert Smythe (Joe Eyre) catalyses them to make decisions about their future. The second piece, Realities, takes place two years later, where two unexpected visitors give Caroline a chance to think about her choices and question her decisions. 

As the quiet Caroline, Philippa Quinn holds this drama together, conveying the anxiety, desperation and barely concealed longing for a better future. Even if the drama concludes in a reassuring but potentially uncertain way, it feels satisfying. 

In the third piece, Honour Thy Father, by H.M. Harwood, the Morgan family live in Belgium. It is 1912, and deciding to be there is not by choice. They live in exile because their father's gambling habit bankrupted them. Their eldest daughter, Claire (Poppy Allen-Quarmby), is arriving from London. Claire is a professional woman in London, but the family doesn't appreciate that working as a shop girl would not provide the income to live the life they expect to.

A series of sharp digs at English values are among the drama and what for the time would have been shocking subject matter (and censorship laws meant performances could only take place in private clubs). There are wry observations about men's and women's roles, what constitutes work, and class. Its shock value may have diminished, but its subversiveness and cynicism remain admirable and relevant. 

The decision to stage the pieces in the traverse heightens the ensemble's performances. Every look and every spoken word seems to take on additional meaning. The small space of the Finborough Theatre means that you feel like you are in the living room with these families. It becomes an intimate and immersive experience—an evening to savour. 

Directed by Melissa Dunne, Makeshifts and Realities continues at the Finborough Theatre until 2 September. 


Photos by Carla Joy Evans

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