Kafka the Musical by Murray Gold

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BBC Radio 3, 24 April 2011
Franz Kafka's reputation continues to exert a particular fascination in western cultures as the author of a series of works reflecting on human insginificance in the early Modernist era.
Kafka - The Musical was based on the premise that Kafka (David Tennant) had become unwittingly involved in a musical based on the last days of his life, mounted by the mysterious theatrical producer Goldman, who was never heard but apparently thinks of Kafka so highly that he casts the author as star and lead singer, even though Kafka protested that he had no aptitude for the roles. Murray Gold's play ingeniously conflated art and life: we never quite knew whether Kafka was performing or living out his last tuberculosis-ridden days. Perhaps it didn't matter; in the modernist world of Kafka's fiction, distinctions such as art and life, fact and fiction assume scant significance. Rather Kafka had to find a way of negotiating an existence over which he had no control, where he seemed perpetually at risk for contributing to Goldman's reported death. The play had a distinctly Beckettian feel, in the sense that it refused to offer markers by which we could understand the characters' motives.
However it seemed as if Gold did not trust in his convictions. As the action unfolded, the theatrical metaphor got raher lost, as Kafka contemplated his own death and the imminent loss of Dora (Emerald O'Hanrahan), the only women he ever loved. By the end the action resembled Love Story in reverse, with Kafka in the Ali MacGraw role and Dora as Ryan O'Neal.
Having said that, I admired Tennant's characterization of a largely thankless role. It's not easy to remain bewildered throughout an 85-minute long play without running the risk of vocal repetition. Tennant carefully structured his performance, registering utter confusion at the beginning but later becoming  accustomed to the randomness of the world around him. By the end he had become so inured to reversals of fate that he accepted them with stoical grace. Death appeared to him a merficul release - although only forty years old, with much still to offer, he felt that it was time to go.
The musical numbers (also by Gold) bore strong echoes of Kurt Weill's Brechtian songs that both commented on and advanced the dramatic action. They were sung in sprechstimme, a clever technique designed to prompt listener reflection on how the words provided a choric commentary on a fundamentally inhospitable world.