Report to an Academy

Report To An Academy is not Franz Kafka’s best work, but Robert McNamara brings the elusive central character with precision and animal rage that is very watchable. The titular report is being given by an individual who used to be an ape, played by McNamara, who observed his human captors well enough to eventually pass as a human. The Academy of Academics wishes to hear his report on the process. However, he feels that as it was so long ago and his apelike existence has faded from his mind, he is not able to give the Academy what they have requested.

Having opened strong, the ending of the piece sadly fizzles out

McNamara's physicality and presence is the most intriguing thing about a stage adaptation of this specific text. In the original short story, the physical person of the ape is absent. We only encounter him via his words in the report, which he stresses is an inaccurate method of communication for representing the truth of ape life. This is because, over the years it has faded from his mind; but also, you cannot communicate ape life in human tongue. It is a challenge McNamara rises to well, limping from his two bullet wounds from when he was captured, at times demonstrating the ape’s slow deliberate mimicry of human movement, at others leaping to a smoothly rehearsed set of steps from a variety show.

In McNamara's vocal performance, he captures the mimicry and inconsistent tone of a language learnt though observation and practice, but with that animal instinct still coming through. Unfortunately, when it becomes particularly animalistic, the lack of clarity with the diction of the words makes things a bit hard to follow.

The weaker elements of the performance include the breaking up of the report being given by the man as moments of reflective movement. While they act as good buffers to the storytelling, they feel underused. As do the choices of accompanying music, that come and go without really having much of an impact on the stage action. Also, there are a few attempts at audience participation that come out of nowhere, which are surprising for the audience, and feel out of place in the work.

Having opened strong, the ending of the piece sadly fizzles out, and I was a bit unclear as to what had happened.

As with any Kafka there is much interpretation to be made, and satirising the idea of Western civilization as a place of freedom by presenting it as a mere heavy blanket of conformity that even an ape can learn, thus demonstrating that the ape has in fact left his place of freedom and security, and not found it here in Europe. If you are a Kafka fan, I wholeheartedly recommend this production. If not, I would say there are clearer and more accessible places to start exploring his work.

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Performances

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The Blurb

Don't miss Scena Theatre’s wild parable based on the famous Franz Kafka short story. An ape, Red Peter, has evolved to behave like a human. He presents his fascinating tale of transformation and the horrid details of his former ape life to a top scientific Academy. Based on the classic story by the master of existential storytelling, Franz Kafka. Adapted by acclaimed German director Gabriele Jakobi. Robert McNamara’s return to the stage is riveting as he brings this wild parable to life. He'll compel you to ponder the issues of free will, animal cruelty and vegetarianism.

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