Fringe Reviews: Kafka and Sons, Baitman and Rugulabuggla
Jim High's first reviews of the 12th Prague Fringe Festival
Kafka and Sons is bound to be a popular piece at the Fringe for its subject matter if nothing else and its a confidently performed and elegantly staged production of Kafka's letters to his father. Young Franz lists his apparently endless grievances with his father whilst ably navigating (and rearranging) a simple, scrapheap metal bedroom of a set which, with some sharp lighting shifts (often from single spots), creates a shadowy, memorably menacing and inhospitable picture of remembered childhood domesticity. The father's replies are occasionally acted out in response to Kafka's whining about his imperfect upbringing and, whilst the shift between the two characters is sharply drawn, the strong New York accents and characters taken on for both the father and son were sometimes distracting, not simply because we're in Prague, but because Kafka's interminable list of quibbles with his father drew him out, for me, as a standard issue Upper East Side neurotic. Fair enough but it felt a little simplistic and combined with the geographical dislocation made the whole piece feel fairly anachronistic. There's not a great deal to the letters either and listening to someone complain (about not very much) on stage for an hour is a tough ask of any audience. The letters are written with the desperation of a son who couldn't tell his father face to face how he felt, and so there's perhaps justification for the Freudian reading of the boy damaged by the father, but the letters don't feel like literary ventures, just like things he 'had to get down', and I'm not sure I got a better idea of the man for them.
Baitman is a one man comedy show really worth seeing. A rather silly, very funny master practitioner of the awkward. The theatre occasionally lulls into a weird sort of ambient humour and if you're looking for straight forward gags he ain't your man but give him a chance and he'll have you grinning ear to ear the whole show. Don't miss it.
Rugulabuggla has heart in abundance and is an earnest and impassioned performance. The show is unfortunately very loose and hard to follow. The audience participation just seemed to be used to cover up gaps and even then its real stretch to call this 'highly interactive'. Although the songs and music were powerfully performed they were all to often plugging a hole and it was often hard to see their relevance. If its an 'issues' play it doesn't bring much to the table and whilst a Beasts of the Southern Wind/Children of Men dystopia is nicely suggested by a charming performer there is little else to recommend this show.
Jim High is a producer at BLOOD, LOVE & RHETORIC THEATRE
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