Currently playing at the Young Vic, Kafka’s Monkey is adapted by Colin Teevan from Franz Kafka’s short story A Report to an Academy. In it Kathryn Hunter plays an ape who has been captured from the wilds and subsequently taken on human characteristics.
The ape tells the story of his loss of freedom, his treatment at the hands of those who caught him and how he has adapted to life since. Ultimately his choice is to be put in a zoo or become a ‘performer’; he chooses the latter.
As the ape, Kathryn Hunter’s physical flexibility is amazing and her performance is an extraordinary demonstration of the mingling of ape and human behaviour.
The play starts when Hunter enters the performance area. She bows several times before we – the audience - get the message; that the ape as man is addressing us, the academy. We need to applaud this entrance, as we would a human addressing such a meeting. After three bows we get it. There is more of this interspecies communication. At a number of points the audience is involved – in grooming and in teaching the ape to drink alcohol, for example.
The ape’s address to the academy provokes thought about the relationship between humanity and other species, as well as about how communication both works and fails.
Altogether this short piece - with a text that’s true to Kafka’s original – has a spectacular performance from Kathryn Hunter. Kafka’s Monkey is both profound and entertaining.