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A report to an Academy by Franz Kafka

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Young Vic

Kafka’s Monkey

Based on A Report to an Academy by Franz Kafka

Adaptation Colin Teevan


  1. Franz Kafka 2

  2. The Works of Franz Kafka 7

  3. Synopsis 9

  4. Cast and Creative Team 11

  5. A Report to an Academy 12

  6. Kafkaesque 13

  1. The German-speaking, Czech-born Jew 15

  2. Anthropomorphism 17

  3. Interview with Walter Meierjohann, Director 19

  4. Interview with Colin Teevan, Adaptor 23

  5. Interview with Kathryn Hunter, Actor 25

  6. Interview with Ilan Reichel, Movement Director 27

  7. Rehearsal Diary by Mia Theil Have, Assistant Director 29

  8. Bibliography 40

If you have any questions or comments about this Resource Pack please contact us:

The Young Vic, 66 The Cut, London, SE1 8LZ

T: 020 7922 2800 F: 020 7922 2802 e:

Compiled by: Adam Penford

Young Vic 2009

First performed at the Young Vic on Saturday 14th March 2009

Young Vic

Kafka’s Monkey

Based on A Report to an Academy by Franz Kafka

Adaptation Colin Teevan

Franz Kafka was born in Prague in 1883. He began writing as a child and continued until his death in 1924. Writing as an intellectual and cathartic exercise, Kafka was uninterested in critical or public acclaim and little of his work was published during his lifetime. The few short stories which were printed by publishers specialising in avant garde work were well-received, but failed to reach a wider audience. After his death however, Kafka became one of the most acclaimed writers of modern literature - more books have been written about his life and work than any other writer with the exception of Shakespeare.

Franz Kafka

His middle-class Jewish parents, Hermann Kafka and Julie née Lowy, ran a fancy goods and accessories shop just outside Europe’s oldest ghetto1, Josefov in Prague. They had six children: two boys (who died before the author was seven) and three girls. Kafka was the oldest. He was an emotionally-troubled child, blaming his mother’s absence (the children were predominantly brought up by household staff whilst their parents worked) and his father’s overbearing and bullying personality which seemed to be particularly directed to his eldest son. In order to comprehend his work it is vital to understand Kafka’s relationship with his father as it permeates all his writing.

Hermann Kafka was born into poverty in a small village and worked as a travelling salesman before establishing his own business in Prague; he worked incredibly long hours and was proud to employ fifteen staff. His son described him as “a true Kafka in strength, health, appetite, loudness of voice, eloquence, self-satisfaction, world dominance, endurance [and] presence of mind.” In turn, Kafka Senior was disappointed that his son was a Schlemiel [a ‘good-for-nothing’] and constantly told him so. Kafka’s earliest stories explored this father-son dynamic. In The Judgment a young man looks after his ailing widower father who treats him with distain. He tells the old man he is engaged to be married and his father, feeling abandoned, loses his temper, telling his son that he could jump in the river for all he cares. The story ends with the son committing suicide. However, it is his now infamous Letter to His Father which provides the greatest insight into the affect of this relationship upon the young writer. Written in 1919, the fifty-page document begins “You asked me lately why I’m afraid of you”; the following answer is not only a list of accusations against his father but also reveals the extent of Kafka’s self-loathing. The diaries of his youth contain imaginative and complex methods of dying intermingled with reports of illnesses (Kafka was a lifelong hypochondriac). He constantly complained about his body, resenting his weak-chest, inverted knees and skinniness; again, an obsession which stayed with him through adulthood.

After studying at the local boys’ elementary school, Kafka gained a place at the prestigious Altstadter Deutsches Gymnasium where he learnt the classics, passing his exams in 1901. He then went to the Charles-Ferdinand University in Prague to read chemistry, but switched courses after two weeks and graduated in 1906 with a degree in law. After completing a compulsory year as a law clerk, he got a job at an Italian insurance firm. However the role required him to work night shifts and, after a year of complaining he had no time to write, Kafka moved to the government institute for Worker’s Accident Insurance. Although he often bemoaned the bureaucratic nature of his job, it is clear that the role gave Kafka a sense of worth. He felt some pride in contributing to the reduction of industrial accidents which had formally been prolific, and having composed the institute’s annual report, was so pleased with the results that he distributed copies to his friends.

Simultaneously, he established with his life-long university friend, Max Brod, Der enge Prager Kreis [the close Prague circle], who were a group of German-Jewish writers. Brod introduced Kafka to Felice Bauer in 1912 with whom he had a five year relationship. Kafka’s diaries of the period reveal that Bauer’s arrival coincided with Kafka’s decision that marriage was the only way to escape his Father. The fact that she lived in Berlin meant that he could also keep a certain amount of distance between them. The body of letters he penned to her is both extensive in volume and remarkable in content. However, the wary and self-destructive author ensured that they met rarely and once they were betrothed (which actually happened twice) he began to feel claustrophobic:

‘“No, leave me alone! No, leave me alone,” I shouted endlessly all along the streets, while again and again she grabbed at me, again and again the siren’s clawed hands struck sideways or over my shoulders at my breast.’

In 1917 (the year he wrote the short story A Report to an Academy that Kafka’s Monkey is adapted from) he contracted tuberculosis, an illness that reoccurred throughout the rest of his life. It also meant he could not travel to Berlin, granting him an excuse to end the relationship with Bauer.

The novels The Trial and The Castle and the novella Metamorphosis have become Kafka’s most famous works as they epitomise his writing style and thematic concerns. Metamorphosis, one of the few works to be published during his lifetime, was written in 1915. It contains perhaps the most famous opening line in twentieth century literature: “As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning after disturbing dreams, he found himself transformed in his bed into an enormous insect.” Gregor, a hard-working salesman who supports his family, turns into an insect. At first his sister Grete looks after him, but soon the family becomes embarrassed and frustrated with his presence in the house. His father looses his temper and throws an apple at the creature which becomes embedded in his shell and rots - Gregor dies neglected and unloved. Instead of regret, the family feels relief and the story ends unpredictably with their positive recognition of Grete’s recently-developed womanliness and her marriage potential. The novel is striking because Kafka sympathises with the negative effect of Gregor’s transformation on the family to the same extent that he does with its effect on Gregor himself, reflecting the writer’s own feelings of inadequacy and his own position in his family.

This inadequacy, revealed during Kafka’s childhood through his self-body loathing, extended into his adulthood in the form of clinical depression and social anxiety. Subsequently the writer’s health was affected and he periodically suffered from insomnia, migraines, boils and constipation. He was also incredibly sensitive to noise and frequently complained of the difficulties of writing in his family home. In an attempt to counteract these real, and psychosomatic, conditions he was obsessed with exercise and homeopathic regimes. He became a vegetarian (to the distain of his father, the son of a butcher) and, after reading that mastication could cure all illnesses, insisted on chewing each mouthful of food ten times. Sex was also a taboo subject for the author, an early encounter with a shop-girl in a hotel left him feeling repulsed and he says in his diaries: “Sex is a disease of the instincts.” However, there has been speculation that Kafka was a frequent visitor to local brothels and in 2008 James Hawes published a book about the graphic pornography which was found amongst Kafka’s possessions, accusing academics of deliberately ignoring the literature to protect the author’s image. Yet despite Kafka’s negative self-opinion most of his contemporaries described him as suave and attractive, and in 1919 Kafka met Milena Jesenska, the wife of one of Kafka’s intellectual friends Ernst Polack. She was thirteen years his junior and his only non-Jewish girlfriend. Their year-long relationship took the form of intense letter writing beginning in 1921. Based on his diary entries and correspondence, she appears to be the only woman he ever loved. A journalist and writer, Jesenska was able to challenge Kafka’s inhibitions in an intelligent and forceful manner, something the writer admired. They only met twice, on the first occasion spending four days in Vienna (something they both treasured for the rest of their lives), but Jesenska was unable to leave her husband and Kafka broke off the relationship.

In 1914 Kafka began to write The Trial, taking several years to complete and published posthumously. It begins (like Metamorphosis) with a famous opening sentence: “Someone must have been telling lies about Josef K., for without having done anything wrong he was arrested one morning.” The novel explores the protagonist’s failed attempts to discover his alleged crime in order to clear his name. Typically nightmarish in tone, the story can be interpreted as a comment on twentieth century bureaucracy. This theme is continued in his latter novel The Castle (1922), in which a Land Surveyor arrives in a village after being summoned by the all-powerful Count. Attempts to gain access to both the Count and the castle prove futile however, as the protagonist (now simply called ‘K’) meets one unhelpful official after another. Kafka never completed the novel, ensuring ‘K’ would forever remain lost in the village, battling with the hierarchical society.

Whist writing The Castle Kafka’s tuberculosis worsened and he was forced to retire from his insurance job to be nursed by his sister. In 1923 he met Dora Diament, a teacher, and moved to Berlin to be with her in the hope that escaping the family home would allow him time to write. He seems to have found more personal contentment with Diament than in his previous relationships but still struggled to create. The following year his condition deteriorated and he was forced to admit himself into a sanatorium near Vienna. It is an irony typical of Kafka that whilst dying of starvation (the condition affected his throat making it impossible to eat) he was proofing his final short story, The Hunger Artist. The once prolific touring performer of the title finds that the public’s taste for watching the physical feat of starvation is fading and is forced to take up residency in a second-rate circus. Realising customers would prefer to see the animals, the protagonist decides to beat his personal record of fasting for forty days. Immeasurable time passes before one day the supervisor demands to know why his staff has left a perfectly usable cage empty only to discover the hunger artist underneath the straw. After the hunger artist dies of starvation, they put a young panther in the artists’ cage whose powerful, noble presence instantly draws an audience. The story can be interpreted as an allegory for a misunderstood artist, constantly striving for artistic perfection in an isolated world, the panther’s virility providing a dramatic antithesis to the protagonist’s inherent weakness.

Franz Kafka died in 1924, a relatively unknown writer. One of his final wishes to his literary executor, Max Brod, was that his literature, diaries and letters (with a couple of acceptances) should be burnt unread after his death. Brod disobeyed, later claiming that if Kafka had intended his wishes to be carried out he would have performed the act himself whilst alive. Upon publication of the work, Kafka’s profile rapidly grew and attracted critical acclaim. Milena Jesenska described Kafka in his obituary as “a man condemned to regard the world with such blinding clarity that he found it unbearable and went to his death.”

Although Kafka only wrote one play (The Warden of the Tomb in 1917), his narratives and the worlds he creates lend themselves to theatrical adaptations (Metamorphosis for example has been reinvented for the stage several times) and the Young Vic production of Kafka’s Monkey is based on a short story, A Report to an Academy. The vast majority of his canon exists in the form of short stories, novellas and novels, although there is now as much academic focus on his diaries and letters as on his fictional work. In 1933 the Gestapo seized twenty notebooks and thirty-five letters which were in the possession of his last girlfriend, Dora Diamant, and an international search is currently underway to retrieve them. Also, little of Kafka’s work was published during his lifetime, and upon his death much of it remained incomplete; chapters were unnumbered and unfinished. The writer’s old friend Max Brod prepared them for publication, and appears to have taken a few liberties in the process, editing the text and reordering chapters.
Short Stories

Description of a Struggle (1904-05)

Wedding Preparations in the Country (1907-08)

Contemplation (1904-12)

The Judgment (1912)

The Stoker (1913)

In the Penal Colony (1914)

The Village Schoolmaster (1914-15)

Blumfeld, an Elderly Bachelor (1915)

The Hunter Gracchus (1917)

The Great Wall of China (1917)

A Report to an Academy (1917)

Jackals and Arabs (1917)

A Country Doctor (1919)

A Message from the Emperor (1919)

An Old Leaf (1919)

The Refusal (1920)

First Sorrow (1921)

Investigations of a Dog (1922)

A Little Woman (1923)

The Burrow (1923)

A Hunger Artist (1924)

Josephine the Singer, or The Mouse Folk (1924)

The Metamorphosis (1915)

The Trial (1925)

The Castle (1926)

Amerika (1927)
Diaries and Notebooks

Diaries 1910-1923

The Blue Octavo Notebooks

Letter to His Father

Letters to Felice

Letters to Ottla

Letters to Milena

Letters to Family, Friends, and Editors

An Academy has invited “Red Peter”, a chimpanzee turned human, to give an account of his former life as an ape. As he appears in front of the Academy, he states that he cannot comply with their request. He explains how he has lost contact with his origins and the memories of his youth in his journey towards humanity. The cost of adapting to the human world has been the loss of his memory.
Instead he takes the Academy on a journey through his five years of becoming a human being. He starts his story at the moment of his capture from his home, the Gold Coast in Africa. He was with a group of fellow apes, drinking by the pools in the evening, when he was shot by a hunting party from the firm of Hagenbeck - once in the face, and once below the hips. Then he was put in a narrow cage nailed to the wall on a steamship and taken to Hamburg.

Kathryn Hunter in Kafka’s Monkey
His own memory gradually begins on board the steamship as he regains consciousness from his injuries. In the beginning he is frightened and desperate in his cage, anxiously trying to escape, but after a while he turns his face towards the wall to hide. He reflects that he would have died if he had not found a way out of his cage, and his way out became ‘the way of humanity’. He starts watching the men on board the ship who gather around his cage out of curiosity and for entertainment. They tickle him, make coarse jokes and spit at him. Despite this, Red Peter finds comfort in their crude company, and starts imitating their slow heavy movements and through this finds an inner calm that keeps him sane. He finds it easy to imitate; only the rum bottle causes him great difficulty. One of the men repeatedly comes back to teach him the art of drinking rum, and shows him how to hold and uncork the bottle and drink. But much as Red Peter wants to learn and please his teacher, he throws the bottle down in disgust one time after another. Until one evening, he grabs a full bottle of rum and drains it completely. The whole company is watching him and he calls out a human word, ‘Hallo’. The crew are pleased and they conclude he is suitable for training.
When he arrives in Europe he realises that two choices are laid out before him: the Zoological Garden or the Variety Stage. He decides to devote himself to becoming human enough to be an able performer, for ‘what is the zoo but another cage’. In Hamburg he is handed over to his first trainer and soon many more as he drives them insane with his eagerness and effort to learn. He earns the name Red Peter because of the scar on his cheek.
He soon becomes a famous performer, with his own manager, giving performances every night, surrounded by the press. Despite this success, he admits in front of the Academy that he is still overcome with disgust for human beings - no one in particular, but he cannot stand the smell of humanity that clings to his body and mingles with the smell of his native land. He is a very lonely character. He managed his transformation and struggle to become a human being on his own. Those who cheered him on did so from the safety of the stands. And now at the height of his career, he returns home alone in the evenings where a half trained female chimpanzee sits waiting for him. He takes comfort from her, but by day he cannot bear to see her, as she has the insane bewildered look of the half broken beast in her eyes.
He concludes to the Academy that he has achieved what he set out to achieve, and that he looks for no man’s approval. He only wants to impart knowledge, to make a report.


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