Franz Kafka: Apparatus review at Rialto Theatre, Brighton – ‘a striking central performance’
The involvement of Hastings actor Emily Carding is a byword for a must-see on the Brighton Fringe. Known for her interactive, one-woman productions of Shakespeare, she turned in an electric Richard III in 2017, and has just previewed Hamlet (An Experience) ahead of Edinburgh Fringe. She can also be seen on the big screen, screeching opposite Martin Freeman in Ghost Stories.
Ross Dinwiddy’s new adaptation of Kafka’s The Penal Colony might also have been a Carding monologue. She dominates the script as the Officer who presides over a complex execution machine with deranged reverence. Glowing with zeal, she details how the machine inscribes the sentence in the flesh of the condemned man until he can “decipher it with his wounds”. There is a repulsive delicacy to her hand gestures, as if she were talking us through an exquisite artwork, rather than this rusty-looking contraption with its sick-stained mouthpiece and squeaky sprocket.
But Apparatus is a four-piece, incorporating the quietly appalled reactions of The Traveller, and the contrasting cheeriness and sensuality of the developing relationship between the prisoner and his guard. Recent scholarship has suggested Kafka was gay, and in the final moments Dinwiddy flips the switch to question the comparative ‘progressiveness’ of European societies that have historically punished citizens for who they love.
Tension isn’t always maintained through overlong speeches, and an opportunity is missed to interrogate the Officer’s conspicuous contempt for the commandant’s ‘women’. But this is a genuinely stomach-turning piece of political theatre – and will put you off rice-pudding for life.