Fringe review: Kafka’s Ape

Based on a 1917 story by Kafka, this powerful solo performance about a primate’s struggle to overcome the confines of captivity shows that history does repeat itself. ★★★★ ½

Feb 27, 2020, updated Feb 27, 2020

Captured by hunters and forced into a cage, Red Peter the ape comes to realise that the only way out is to emulate man – to shake hands, smoke a pipe, drink alcohol and, eventually, to talk.

This is the plot of the 1917 short story A Report for an Academy, written by the surrealist and satirical Franz Kafka, and it is also the basis for Kafka’s Ape, adapted and directed by Phala O Phala.

The fact that the story is so relevant today shows that history does, in fact, repeat itself. The fact that it’s actually more relevant today than when it was written 100 years ago suggests that the world we currently live in has some serious problems.

The script is true to its original in much of the language, though bits and pieces are cut and pasted, but it’s the inclusion of Red Peter saying he was born in Tanzania and now resides in Johannesburg that places this production in the Apartheid-heavy setting and mindset of South Africa. You could find yourself reminded of the Stolen Generation in our own country, because the play is about being treated as a lesser being with grand hopes of assimilation.

“Why assimilate?” the academy might ask Red Peter. “I was looking for a way out – for no other reason,” he replies.

In this one-man show, Tony Miyambo plays Red Peter, completely invested in body and speech. He snuffles and grunts and slaps at his body while addressing, in English, an audience of intellectuals, and what he does best is physically portray animalistic tantrums in a way that makes you feel as though you’re witness to the unique behaviour of an ape while simultaneously conjuring up a person who is mentally returning to their place of great suffering.

I believed Miyambo’s performance of an ape performing civility, but also of an ape caught in the repetitive cogs of trauma.

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This play is empathy-driven and incredibly powerful. It’s not surprising it has won multiple awards, and hopefully it will continue to travel to more festivals because if art can change the way we think, we’ve got nothing to lose with this play and much to gain.

Kafka’s Ape is playing in The Studio at the Holden Street Theatres until March 15.

See more Fringe and Festival stories and reviews here.

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