Tag Archives: Matt Hastings

Franz Kafka – Apparatus

White Bear Theatre

Franz Kafka - Apparatus

Franz Kafka – Apparatus

White Bear Theatre

Reviewed – 10th January 2019


“By wisely trusting in the source material, he has achieved a result which is both timely and, at times, compelling”


Though a century old, the fiction of Franz Kafka – its cruelty, its paranoia, and its pitch-black humour- reverberates through time. The concept of a ‘penal colony’ may seem outdated, a nightmare from a forgotten age, but Kafka’s short story of the same name remains a terrifyingly urgent vision of cold, bureaucratic madness, and ultimately its collapse. As such it seems fitting that today it should be brought to the stage, as it has in Ross Dinwiddy’s new adaptation.

In the original text – to which Dinwiddy’s plot remains relatively true – a traveller from an unnamed country arrives on an unnamed island, a penal colony. He is escorted to the place of an execution he has come to observe, and discovers there the brutal and arcane process by which it will be carried out. In twelve-hour cycles, a machine – the “apparatus” – carves the sentences of condemned persons into their skin, keeping them alive at least long enough to have an “epiphany” concerning their crimes. The only executor – and increasingly the only supporter – of the practice is an officer who, with almost religious zeal, explains to the traveller the baroque form of torture which he is about to witness. The only other characters are the condemned man and the soldier guarding him.

The small number of characters as well as the small space are both fitting for the dank, paranoid atmosphere of the play. The claustrophobic room housing the apparatus once doubled as an inner sanctum for its adherents; we the audience act as the ghosts of the many observers that once came but do so no longer. Matt Hastings’ traveller is perhaps more obviously appalled than Kafka’s original character, yet as a result he acts as the vessel for our horror. But the keystone of the piece is undoubtedly Emily Carding’s officer, whose wild mood swings between order and mania mirror the essential madness of bureaucracy underpinning everything.

Where the play becomes somewhat slack, however, is in its awkward transition from page to stage. Much of the officer’s dialogue is lifted directly from Kafka, but what works well in prose often becomes too knotty for drama. There are times when the officer’s explanations lose interest in spite of Carding’s charisma. Restoring the balance slightly is the parallel relationship between the soldier and the condemned man (Maximus Polling and Luis Amália respectively). What starts as detached, slowly develops (despite the condemned man’s circumstances) into playful and finally sexual, all carried out in silence as the oblivious officer explains the apparatus. It is in this sequence in particular that the piece best expresses Kafka’s dark sense of humour. And yet even this loses interest after some time, leaving sections in the middle of the play flat, in want of something happening.

Nonetheless, Dinwiddy manages to retain the cruelty and absurdity of the story. By wisely trusting in the source material, he has achieved a result which is both timely and, at times, compelling.


Reviewed by Harry True


Franz Kafka – Apparatus

White Bear Theatre until 26th January


Previously reviewed at this venue:
This Story of Yours | ★★★ | January 2018
The Lady With a Dog | ★★★★ | February 2018
Northanger Avenue | ★★★★ | March 2018
Grimm’s Fairy Tales | ★★ | April 2018
Lovebites | ★★★ | April 2018
The Old Room | ★★ | April 2018
The Unnatural Tragedy | ★★★★★ | July 2018
Eros | ★★ | August 2018
Schrodinger’s Dog | ★★★★ | November 2018


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Review of Richard III – 3 Stars


Richard III

The Cockpit Theatre

Reviewed – 18th October 2017



“the real stand out performances lie with the females in this play”


Richard III is one of Shakespeare’s longest plays. This fact does not hold back Front Foot Theatre’s production of the classic text. From the beginning it’s easy to follow and captivating.

All of the acting in this production is strong with a few performers being quite exceptional. Kim Hardy portrays Richard as a subtly menacing villain. His physicality of Richard’s deformity is visible but doesn’t ever border on being too much. The Duke of Buckingham, played by Guy Faith, acts wonderfully as his sinister right hand man. However, the real stand out performances lie with the females in this play, particularly Helen Rose Hampton as Queen Elizabeth and Fiona Tong as the Duchess of York. The strength of their characters easily shines through even when placed in terrible situations.

The use of space in this adaption is extremely clever. We’re brought closer in to the action by a thrust staging and the unused seating bank is utilised as a piece of set (designed by Amanda Mascarenhas) throughout the play. The balcony above the stage is used for numerous scenes. However, using the section directly above a large portion of the audience led to most being unable to watch the action and quickly becoming disengaged. Lighting (Kiaran Kesby) adds a lot to the space: uplighting the actors gives them a sinister glow and dark spaces allow characters to lurk in shadows.

One of the cleverest parts of this production is the use of puppets (made by Jenny Dee) to portray the infamous Princes in the Tower. These work well due to the actors both operating and voicing them. It would have been easy for this to come across as silly, but they manage to avoid that completely.

Throughout the play the setting remained confused; it was a little too muddled between modern and historical. All of the battles were fought with swords and shields yet someone listens to a radio and another pins up photographs. It’s quite jarring. Although from an aesthetical perspective the monochromatic theme of the piece with only small splashes of colour is effective.

Directed by Lawrence Carmichael, this is a strong production. For the majority of the time it’s extremely engaging which is a major achievement considering its length. With Shakespeare it’s easy to get too carried away and caught up in things but this adaption remains grounded and easily understandable.


Reviewed by Katie Douglas

Photography by David Monteith-Hodge




is at The Cockpit Theatre until 4th November



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