Review: Kafka the Musical, Radio 3

“What you call the truth is just an illusion”

David Tennant won the ‘Best Actor’ award at the inaugural BBC Audio Drama Awards for his leading role in Kafka the Musical so when it popped up on the iPlayer after a repeat playing on Radio 3, I thought I’d give it a shot, especially as it also featured Jessica Raine. Murray Gold is perhaps better known as a composer, having worked on shows like Doctor Who, Shameless and Queer as Folk. He is also a playwright though, and an ambitious one too as evidenced by his, well, Kafkaesque doodlings here.

Starting from the premise that Franz Kafka is woken one day by his father to be told that a musical based on his own life is being put on and he is to star in it. Its a paid job so he takes it on but it soon turns out to be most nightmarish as the lines between real life and fiction become increasingly blurred, people from his own life appear as characters in the play – sometimes at the same time – and elements of his own work also feed into the whole thing in a big whirl of dream-like confusion where everyone seems to know more than Kafka himself.

It didn’t work for me. The Kafka-esque nature of the piece is just too arch, too self-consciously knowing to really convince as a successful take on this genre and consequently it ends up just being confusing, especially when it becomes overly self-referential. The poignancy that ought to come from the stark analysis of Kafka’s life is only allowed to emerge intermittently and so I have to admit that I found my attention wandering more than once over the 90 minutes.

Tennant isn’t bad as Kafka but I found little that really commended this to be an award-winning role and that was a similar feeling across the cast: Raine is good – I really do love her voice – as Felice, as are David Fleeshman and Joanna Monroe as Kafka’s parents and Emerald O’Hanrahan’s Dora is the one who finally gets to mine real emotion. But Kafka – The Musical just wasn’t my cup of tea in the end, as demonstrated by my rapidly dwindling patience for the actual Weill-inspired musical that actually plays out towards the end.

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