KAFKA’S APE @ The Blue Room Theatre gets 9/10

Kafka’s Ape 
@ The Blue Room Theatre
Friday, January 17, 2020


Simply put: the Australian premiere of this multiple award-winning solo performance by Tony Bonani Miyambo hit The Blue Room Theatre’s audience like a wet fish in the face. As part of day one of FRINGE WORLD 2020, Kafka’s Ape certainly set the tone straight to heavy and gut-wrenching, making it difficult to go out into the night and consider any jovial activity such as perhaps catching a second show, because this adaptation of author Franz Kafka’s A Report to an Academy (1917) through a South African post-Apartheid lens lingers long after one leaves the theatre.

As is not uncommon for The Blue Room, the set was austere. The audience was met with nought but a lectern and a banner reading “Species of the World Conference.” The moment Miyambo made his entrance as Red Peter, the highly evolved primate here to address the academy (the audience) about his achievements, it became obvious that his physicality and characterisation as Red Peter was to be extraordinary. Suit-clad, with hat and cane, Miyambo grunted and snorted like an ape while muttering eerily about freedom and identity under his breath.

Miyambo IS Red Peter, there’s almost no need for suspension of disbelief as this exceptional performer moves through the space as the ape in question, never quite standing still, never flatfooted, always on the balls on his feet with arms swinging. Equally impressive is Miyambo’s uncanny ability to portray variation within the character of Red Peter, as he effortlessly transitions from his new, highly educated and well-spoken, posh accented self, to the grunts, shocking screeches, and wild outbursts of his animal self.

At times Kafka’s Ape elicited giggles, with some genuinely funny moments, such as Red Peter shaking ‘hands’ with an audience member by grabbing onto their leg, or picking fleas from the hair of another unsuspecting audience member. Yet, these moments only serve to strangely humanise the character of Red Peter, while highlighting the intense and terrible injustices which has befallen him and the absurd lengths to which he’s willing to go to simply to survive.

Sudden lighting transitions were extremely effective coupled with Miyambo’s masterful characerisation and use of the limited props. With nothing but a black-out, a spotlight, a cane and the lectern, Miyambo conjured the image of the cage in which he was trapped when sailing from Tanzania, where he was captured, to the Eastern Cape. Tears came unbidden and unheeded as we watched the tears glittering in Miyambo’s eyes spilling out over his cheeks as he recalls the terror of that voyage.

When accompanied by frightened animal whimpers so perfected by Miyambo, it makes you want to clutch your heart at the horrendous nature of our species. Bearing in mind the post-Apartheid lens, as Red Peter tells you the story of his eventual civilisation from a wild animal to the educated creature standing before you it is tremendously upsetting, providing a way of considering the awful atrocities of that period that brings it home like a textbook never could.

An absolute highlight of the show is Miyambo’s sudden tearing of the banner from its frame and gracefully, agilely climbing it, swinging up and around like the primate of his character, making it clear the astounding amount of time and effort which has been put into perfecting the characterisation and physicality of Red Peter.

The script is filled with one-liners of absolute golden wisdom. A look at perception, the subjectivity of an individual’s unique experience of life, what it means to be human, and civilised, the extreme measures through which humans will go to survive, and, the unfortunate and horrendous things that humans do. Kafka’s Ape is an important piece, worthy of study in any English Lit or Theatre uni course, and a must-see for those of us to whom the right to self-identify is of any significance.


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