‘…a stark reminder that power crazed lunatics really do exist in historical and modern times’
An adaptation of a short story, ‘In The Penal Colony’ by Kafka is brought to life at the White Bear Theatre, under the new, more daunting, title of ‘Apparatus’. Written in 1914 and first published in 1919, Blue Devil productions are celebrating the 100th Anniversary year of this incredible man.
Kafka was interested in the oppressive nature of bureaucracy and the short story was written in 1914, the same year World War One began. The story focuses on one room where the prisoners are sent to be executed. A Traveller arrives, only on the island for a few days and no fan of the penal colony but he hopes to leave with plenty of material to write about. On this day he is scheduled to watch a man die. An Officer arrives to explain how the room works, in the hope that she can convince The Traveller to support her in speaking to the new commandant about the continued use of her somewhat overused, battered torture machine. The old commandant has died and he had designed and built the machine, so along with his death, support for the torture room has dwindled on the island. The Condemned Man (not knowing his fate or his crime) and The Soldier arrive in the room and The Officer prepares the room ready for execution.
The room and most importantly the machinery is a stark reminder to the audience that brutal regimes and mindless killings were not something that stopped in 1919. The chill of gas chambers, water boarding and all other extremities of torture came from people in power believing totally in their ideologies. The Officer’s focus is only on the mechanics of her execution apparatus and the politics of continuing her work. She has no comprehension of the inhumanity of the condemned prisoners, only the power and justice of the action. Her machinery must work.
The Officer, played by Emily Carding, epitomises the power and cruelty of barbaric regimes. She was mesmerising in her glee and excitement at showing off her execution apparatus. Almost the proud mother showing off her new-born child, sickening in her ease of admiration. Chilling and slightly deranged but never needing to raise her voice, her performance was uncomfortable to watch because she was so unhinged and blinded by her obsession. So blinded in fact that the actual events being played out in front of her eyes between The Soldier and The Condemned Man were completely not noted. Her explanation of the twelve hours of gruelling torture until death made for uncomfortable viewing. Dinwiddy has made this story her story and she overwhelmed the audience with her presence. An outstanding performance.
The Traveller, Matt Hastings, had an ever present physicality in the room, an observer with little to say, but building up the tension brilliantly with his candid glances and uncomfortable movement in the confined space. He represented the normal person, uncomfortable with the situation, amazed by her and struggling with the inhumanity of torture.
Dinwiddy’s direction of Luis Amália as The Condemned Man and Maximus Polling as The Soldier was an interesting component of the piece. While Carding rattled on about ‘specially prepared cotton wool’and the ‘harrows’to her visitor, these two men strike up a bizarre, absurd relationship. From the hideous chains he arrived in to the feeding on the bed, to the whispering between them and the final intimacy, they certainly caused some heated debate long after the production. They encaptured the audience in the way their mainly unspoken relationship developed.
The disjointed music, the tins of rice pudding and the uncomfortable room were put together by a great production team that enhanced the whole experience. A polished and committed piece of work.
Dinwiddy has managed to bring in modern ideas to ‘Apparatus’ with The Officer being female and the intimacy of the prisoner and soldier, although it wasn’t clear why this slant had been taken. The dark humour was cleverly layered and the whole production was absurdly Kafkaesque. Any adaptation of Kafka’s work is brave and credit must be given for tackling this dark world. This production is a stark reminder that power crazed lunatics really do exist in historical and modern times.
APPARATUS by Franz Kafka
Written and directed by Ross Dinwiddy
Produced by Alex Grace and Richard Bright
In association with Blue Devil Productions
8th – 26th January 2019 at The White Bear Theatre.
Box office: http://www.whitebeartheatre.co.uk
Reviewer Jo Griffiths has lectured in theatre studies for over twenty years. She is a keen playwright and founder member of Two42 Theatre Company. She made the top 20 in Bristol Old Vic’s open submissions 2016.