"Dearest Max, my last request: Everything I leave behind me ... in the way of diaries, manuscripts, letters, sketches, and so on, [is] to be burned unread.”
The dying wish of critically acclaimed 20th century author Franz Kafka was infamously ignored.
Friend, fellow writer and literary executor, Max Brod has become synonymous with Kafka himself after overruling his friend’s request and publishing a lifetime of work.
It’s an age old question – without the breach of trust, we wouldn’t be talking about Kafka now, so if the writer found out, wouldn’t he be happy Brod published his books?
Not exactly, according to Alan Bennett, who has imagined this moment with aplomb in the tantalisingly titled Kafka’s Dick.
Drawing room style, the story emerges in the home of 1980s couple Sydney (Nicholas Burns) and unappreciated wife Linda (Samantha Spiro), who live in Leeds with Sydney’s paranoid elderly father (Nicholas Burns) and a tortoise.
Sydney fancies himself as an amateur writer and has shelves adorned with biographies and non-fiction. As an insurance man, he has a particular penchant for Kafka, who himself worked (unhappily) in this field for most of his life.
Things take a rather unexpected turn when long-dead Max Brod arrives on their doorstep – followed shortly by the man Kafka himself, played by a talented Daniel Weyman.
With Kafka’s fame preceding him, the first half is taken up with hilarious attempts to avoid breaking the news of his legacy.
In the second half Kafka is pitched further into turmoil by the arrival of his larger than life father Hermann, played by master thespian Matthew Kelly.
Alan Bennett is at his most witty, creating a brilliant comedy that had all at Bath’s Theatre Royal laughing throughout last night’s opening performance.
The story caters to our simplistic pleasures but with an air of sophistication. Literary references are peppered throughout, and despite the prevalence of innuendo and gags, there’s serious exploration of fame, celebrity and ultimately, the meaning of a life.
Interval conversation in the theatre’s corridors wasn’t about the size of Kafka’s manhood, but the size of his literary legacy.
Best summed up as, yes, Kafkaesque, and fun for those with or without a great knowledge of his writing, Kafka’s Dick won’t disappoint.
Kafka’s Dick is at the Theatre Royal Bath until Saturday, July 26.