Diagnosis Kafka: A Country Doctor, BT Studio

Kafka. The name alone is usually enough to send shivers through you. Personally, the addition of a creepy groom, a raped girl and a dying boy seemed completely unnecessary, if it was a scare you were after. You could just as well have stood in the middle of the stage with no lights or props, whispering ‘Kafka, Kafka, Kafka; Kafka’s on your set texts’, and I’d have been in pieces.

But they didn’t do that, of course. Instead the production went full-throttle at the weirder elements from the original story, the mysteriously appearing groom, the exact nature of the boy’s illness, the fate of Rose. Though running at only 45 minutes, this production doesn’t exactly leave you feeling short-changed. There are enough set moments crammed in amidst unsettling lines to leave the audience with the sense that they have been told a full, if incomprehensible story. Where the production was particularly clever was in their use of elements of the original script, combined with moments more typical of Theatre of Cruelty. The audience was on the one hand lulled by the repetitive, sometimes sing-song nature of the dialogue and then thrust out somewhere new and unknown.

There were some problems though. The production often seemed to have been so delighted by the chance do to something ‘odd’ and ‘different’ (as the program tells us) that they forgot that things have to be weird and new for a reason, not just for the sake of it. Whilst enthusiasm is great, it did mean that the play ended up being stuffed with just about everything odd and different they could think of, just in case the audience didn’t get just how new and different they were. Minute silences; chanting; half-singing. We got the works.

Overall the performances themselves were a little mixed: Charles Davies and Alex Wilson really left to carry the production between them whilst the others erred on just the wrong side of forgettable. Unfortunately, a decent script was strongly affected by the feeling that these were just a bunch of A-level drama students, keen to show off everything they’d learnt in as little time as possible. It’s the problem with looking back to find something new to do (the original story was written in 1919); what was once boundary-pushing now looks a little heavy-handed; what was once impressive is now just a little bit irritating.

*** (3 STARS)

A Country Doctor plays at the Burton-Taylor studio until Saturday.