'Kafka's Monkey' is an adaptation of Franz Kafka's short story 'A Report to an Academy'. It's a monologue for a chimpanzee that has learnt to speak and behave like a human being.
Being by Kafka, the conclusions it draws are about as bleak as you could wish for. But Walter Meierjohann's production confirms that Kathryn Hunter is one of the most extraordinary performers currently working in the UK.
Essentially, this is a play about integration, written from an outsider's perspective. Hunter's performance is well-nigh perfect. Wide-eyed and clownish, she captures the broken-but-defiant, wounded dignity of an animal forced to perform.
Colin Teevan's script is true to Kafka's text: it's unshowy and crackles with internal tension. It is hard to pin down precisely what Kafka is arguing. Is he saying that none of us can escape our origins? Or that humanity is such a wretched mess that not even animals should aspire to our condition? That the story was originally published in a Zionist magazine suggests an even bleaker reading.
Irrespective of its intentions, 'Kafka's Monkey' is a superb piece of writing, peerlessly embodied by Kathryn Hunter.