Based on Kafka’s short story A Report to an Academy, Kafka's Monkey sees Red Peter deliver a lecture about his former life - as an ape. Telling the academy that in a desperate attempt to escape captivity, he aped his human captors and soon "reached the cultural level of the average European", Red Peter’s extraordinary transformation has given him fame (he is a star on the Vaudeville stage) and allowed him at least the "mockery" of human freedom. However, this comes at a great cost.
As Red Peter, Kathryn Hunter’s incredibly physical performance is staggering. She creates an eerily convincing human/monkey hybrid, deftly switching between the grace of a ballerina and the crudeness if an ape. Bringing the play’s difficult ideas to life, her tiny, elastic body fills the stage (beautifully lit by Mike Gunning), comfortably moving from profound philosophical questions to silly banana gags.
In just one exhilarating hour Kafka’s Monkey questions our notions of freedom, suggests a Swiftian repulsion with humans and a hankering for the noble savage, the place before language and memory, free from the torture of reasoned thought. Hunter's magnificent performance hints at the struggle within us between the civilised and the savage. Red Peter's tragedy is that he is unable to reconcile these.