It’s monkey magic business

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  • Kafka’s Monkey
  • Home, Manchester
  • Until July 27
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New York, Paris, Tokyo, Athens, Sydney, and now Manchester.

If the latter wants to put its new cultural centre on the international map then it’s an intent underlined by the staging of this curious but captivating hour of theatre.

Kathryn Hunter’s one-woman show has already toured the world to acclaim so does not have much left to prove.

The award-winning actress was a whizz as Arabella Figg in Harry Potter, and is no less capable of stage magic here – especially as she plays a monkey playing a man.

The production is a stage adaptation of Franz Kafka’s short story A Report to An Academy and does for human-simian relations what the author’s more-widely-known Metamorphosis did for human-insect interaction.

Red Peter is a monkey, who after several years in captivity has acquired knowledge and language – besides a natty white tie and tails – and has been invited to share his experiences with us, the audience, as “esteemed members of the academy”.

Naturally, his observations of our cruelty to his kind, as well as our own, raise gently subversive questions about the nature of humanity.

But it’s all done with a lightness of touch, often a highly comedic one. More than once, the sight of Hunter caught in shadow against the stage backdrop suggests an image of Charlie Chaplin.

Hunter is a highly-skilled physical performer, slight of stature but with unfeasibly long arms – and low hands.

It is a thrilling portrayal, as she nimbly skitters between lectern or stage ladder, and just once or twice indulges in a little audience, and banana, interaction.

Whether it’s drama, performance art, or even occasionally stand-up – or stooped-down – comedy is entirely up to you. But it is engaging, thought-provoking, sinister, amusing, and leaves an indelible impression of having seen a mature talent hard at work.

Another indicator that HOME, and its artistic director Walter Meierjohann, are heading in a determinedly-different theatrical direction.

David Upton