Jack Klaff's Kafka

“Do you know what it’s like to be the father of a vegetarian?”

Hermann Kafka.

Jack Klaff as Kafka (Photo: Marilyn Kingwill)

Franz Kafka’s life and writings are synonymous with angst, failure, guilt, crippling self-doubt, and Life’s essential meaninglessness. 

But he could also be a bit of laugh, as Jack Klaff demonstrates in this impressive one man show revived to celebrate the centenary of his death. For 90 minutes he takes us on a voyage around his near namesake in some 60+ roles, adopting accents, personalities, and physical stylings. (Some readers will already have calculated that the average time per speaking character is some 1.5 minutes. We trust the Guinness Book of Records is all over the figures.)

Klaff resurrects not just Kafka himself but also family and friends, lovers and creations. As if that were nor enough he impersonates others who had something to say about the Czech fabulist. People such as Albert Einstein, Alan Bennett, Albert Camus, and Anthony Perkins, to mention just some of the A listers.

Back in 1987 Bennett himself estimated that there were some 15,000 books about Kafka. That number must at least have doubled by now. And of course there is that Internet thing. Can we even get close to knowing a man whose life was, and still is, disputed and his body of work possibly incomplete because suppressed or disowned by it creator?

Jack Klaff sets out to conquer this mountain of material. He selects, orders and presents it so that the evening is exceptionally intense experience. We are in the intimate space of the Finborough Theatre. Its tiny stage is bare except for one four-legged stool and the subtle play of lights and Klaff himself who is almost literally in our face. It is fascinating to see an accomplished actor at such close range performing a feat of memory and stamina, conviction and commitment. (But at least two of us have never seen a man in a suit wear shoes knotted on the side before. Is this also Kafkaesque? we wonder.)

Jack Klaff as Kafka (Photo: Marilyn Kingwill)

Klaff’s own script weaves his sources together with great skill into a patchwork quilt of allusions, themes, attitudes, and emotions to powerful effect. But Klaff also wears his learning lightly. There are gags-a-plenty along the way. (One ‘character’ in the programme is called an “Unnamed short British author”. Ouch! Guesses, anyone?)

But perhaps the intimacy of the venue may seem to work against the format. Proximity to the vibrant body language of the solo artist can make it easy to lose our place in his torrent of words that are claiming our attention. And is there, perhaps, too much information? We learn that Kafka was a devotee of Fletcherism and tried to chew each mouthful of food one hundred times. That his vegetarianism annoyed his father, the son of a Butcher. That he visited brothels and may have been attracted to men… So..?

We get some hints of his writing style, but not a summation, or explanation of why they have proved so influential in the last 100 years. Which is fair enough. We can speculate ourselves. Though it does seem odd that one of the most extreme, absurd, lethal, and – Oh, all right – Kafkaesque episodes in history up until then appears to have passed without comment from the Great Ironist himself. Or did his contemporary Hasek copyright the real horrors of the Great War?

But Klaff conveys as much of the man and his influence as is possible in 90 minutes. So whether you love Kafka, hate him, or are completely indifferent, you’ll find much to enjoy in this funny, thoughtful, versatile piece which shows that even one man and a stage can stage quite a show.

Even in the heart of stuffy heart of old Kensington…

Jack Klaff as Kafka (Photo: Marilyn Kingwill)

Production Notes

Written by Jack Klaff

Directed by Colin Watkeys



Jack Klaff


Director: Colin Watkeys

Set Designer: Jaroslav Nemrava

Lighting Designer: Colin Watkeys

Sound Designer: Zdena Sedláček


Running Time: One hour and 30 minutes without an interval

Booking to 6th July 2024


Finborough Theatre

118 Finborough Road

Earls Court


SW10 9ED

Box Office: www.finboroughtheatre.co.uk

Reviewed by Brian Clover

at the Finborough

on  14th June 2024