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Reviews/Fringe World Festival/Theatre

Caught between worlds

21 January 2020

Tony Bonani Miyambo gives a masterful physical performance in the gut-wrenching work that is Kafka’s Ape, writes Craig McKeough.

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Review: Tony Bonani Miyambo, Kafka’s Ape ·
Blue Room Theatre, 18 January 2020 ·
Review by Craig McKeough ·

Kafka’s Ape is a gut-wrenching account of how humans treat those we might see as different, punishing them for their otherness, even if, in reality, they are very much like us.

Tony Bonani Miyambo’s searing turn as the ape, Red Peter, amuses and horrifies in equal measure, and his masterful physical performance, in which he mimics the sounds, movements and mannerisms of a great ape, serves to strengthen the narrative, which is essentially about that very human search for identity.

Based on Franz Kafka’s story, A Report to the Academy, Kafka’s Ape has Red Peter addressing this “academy” with the story of his journey from brutal capture in the wild to deciding to mimic being human in an effort to escape his confines.

“To survive, I had to cease being an ape,” he tells us.

Red Peter says his act of mimicry has led to his forgetting his “apeness”. But to the audience the vestiges of his life as an ape are still obvious as he lopes around the stage, adeptly climbs a high metal framework, shakes hands with audience members or searches their heads for fleas, and occasionally lets fly with a terrible shriek.

He says he is content with his new life and his adopted identity, but there is plenty of reason for doubt.

It is apparent he is uncomfortably aware of being between two worlds – not really human in the sense we would know it, and no longer entirely ape either.

In this way, Miyambo presents the dilemma of anyone caught in a major transition in life. The most obvious parallels are that of the migrant, especially one moving between cultures, or someone in a country comprised of distinct cultural groups or races.

The show’s genesis in a still racially divided South Africa means this reading of the performance hits especially hard.

It also has a particular impact in Australia, where the spectre of racism is always bubbling below the surface of our civilised society. It carries echoes of the attempts by European settlers to assimilate indigenous people into colonial culture, and points to the ongoing debate about how migrants from other countries, with different races, religions and cultures, should fit into our dominant white Christian society.

Kafka’s Ape runs until 25 January 2020 at the Blue Room.

Read Tony Bonani Miyambo’s Fringe Session Q&A here.

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Author —
Craig McKeough

Craig McKeough is a writer and visual artist, with a lifetime’s experience in journalism, covering everything from the arts to horse racing, politics and agriculture. Craig has always been drawn to the swing; an egalitarian, grounding piece of equipment where you can go as high and wild as you want, but you’ll always return to where you started.

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