A Hunger Artist (Kafka Adaptation)

Inspired by a Kafka story, writer Josh Luxenberg and Brooklyn-based Sinking Ship have created a weird and wonderful piece of theatre in A Hunger Artist (Kafka Adaptation). A grotesque, grumbling impresario laments the decline in fashion of hunger artists, artists who would sit in cages and starve for your entertainment, which he assures the audience were once sell-out productions in the very best European theatres. Recalling the man who he once managed, now entirely forgotten, the impresario relives the glory days of the past. This is a play that touches on the ethics of performance, spectatorship and art – ‘no-one has the right to be dissatisfied’, the frontman mutters – A Hunger Artist is wacky, witty and challenging drama.

An unsettlingly funny project

Immediately noticeable and commendable are the costume and make-up worn by Jonathan Levin, this production’s solo performer. Looking like a gothic ringmaster in a crumpled black coat, Levin stumbles onto the stage sporting thickly applied white face-paint. He guides us through an engaging exposition – with some brilliantly judged nods to the rising cost of participating in the Fringe for performers, appropriate for a play about abandoned artists – into a creatively conceived and staged puppet sequence.

These are not the only metatheatrical aspects of the performance: the audience is interacted with in such a way that disrupts the dynamic between showman and show-goer. This is a lot of fun and is executed well, but is more original for its thematic context than its actual choreography. There is nothing new to be seen in the way in which audience members are included in this Fringe show, but what is different is that the text forces us to look long and hard at the effects this has on the performance.

Comedy is vital to the success of the show, and Levin delivers it amply and with ease. True to Kafka’s signature tone, the piece hits some dark depths but director Joshua William Gelb makes sure that it is always laced with the surreal and the ironic. Throughout the performance Levin is in total control, but is at his best when using his body. The manipulation of two hat-stands as substitutes for people is ingenious, and when playing the hunger artist himself Levin, with his gaunt face and slow pant, is a distressing sight to behold.

An unsettlingly funny project, A Hunger Artist  will have you thinking twice about the powers held by spectator and performer, and what you are agreeing to when you buy a ticket to the theatre.  

Reviews by Sam Fulton

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Performances

Location

The Blurb

A man sits alone in a cage, starving himself for your entertainment. A 'beautifully imagined' (CultureBot.org), darkly comic adaptation of the Kafka story by acclaimed Brooklyn-based company Sinking Ship. 'Talented!' (New York Times). 'Splendid!' (Time Out). Once cheered by thousands, the Hunger Artist is now forgotten by everyone except his one-time manager. What begins as a simple nostalgic story transforms into a startlingly inventive trip into the nature of memory, art, performance and spectatorship, as told by the only person who remembers an artist whose act was simply... to hunger.

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