Report to an Academy
Old Red Lion Theatre
Reviewed – 7th July 2022
“the staged narrative builds to nowhere—when McNamara exits the stage for a second time, it is difficult to tell the play has concluded”
In an inauspicious opening moment, Robert McNamara enters the stage with a cane. With each step, he smacks the cane on the ground in front of him and yanks both feet forward—a cheap Chaplin imitation and a frankly offensive attempt to play a physical disability for laughs. Report to an Academy, Scena Theatre’s one-man adaptation of a Kafka story of the same name (set to endure a long run at the Old Red Lion), fails to improve upon this moment. It smacks of an ill-considered vanity project throughout.
The play remains true to its source material in a literal sense, lifting most of the text and narrative from the Kafka story verbatim. An ape named Red Peter, played by McNamara, details his capture, his traumatic transfer to Germany, and the process by which he learned to perform human behaviour. Perhaps the short story, which is intentionally somewhat anticlimactic, could have used more intervention in order for it to be properly adapted for the stage. Instead adaptor/director Gabrielle Jakobi adopts a rigid approach, leaning into the anticlimax. As it stands, the staged narrative builds to nowhere—when McNamara exits the stage for a second time, it is difficult to tell the play has concluded. The runtime, a scant forty minutes, is the play’s only relief.
McNamara’s physical and vocal mannerisms feel at once incessant and scattershot, caricaturish and unclear. His garish limp is inconsistent—at times he waves his cane wildly, ditching the physicality entirely. And though he gesticulates with the cane, the prop never transforms, remaining an aimless extremity. He often seems to interpret randomly selected words literally, either through gesture or intonation, which neither elucidates nor amuses. Perhaps this choice is intended to portray the process of Red Peter’s acquisition of language, but one has to squint and contort to see a directorial justification. More likely, the choice is folded into McNamara’s lazy decision to “play madness”, shouting singular words at random and making faces throughout his performance.
One particular sound cue is repeated throughout the production—a short, sombre, semi-orchestral excerpt that coincides with Red Peter’s initial captivity on a ship. Its subsequent repetitions arrive without much context, and the sound becomes a low-effort shorthand to portray the character’s sadness.
The source material itself, which allegorically deals with themes of colonization and assimilation, seems to be lost on Jakobi and McNamara, as evidenced by the painfully rudderless performance and unthinking programme notes. It is difficult to understand why the play was staged at all.
Reviewed by JC Kerr
Photography by J. Yi Photography
Report to an Academy
Old Red Lion Theatre until 30th July
Previously reviewed at this venue: