Written kisses never reach their destination… Lauren Thompson and Richard Hills-Ingyon are Franz Kakfa and Felice Bauer in Küsse.
Whilst writing his greatest works (including The Metamorphosis), Kafka was engaged to a woman named Felice Bauer, a stenographer from Berlin. Whilst he wrote over 200 letters to her (later released in the book ‘Letters to Felice’), Kafka was never really ‘present’ in their relationship and pushed Felice away, preferring to keep her in his mind and on paper.
This is the story told through stunning physical theatre by Thompson and Hills-Ingyon, who shyly observe each other until they finally connect, finally speak only to force themselves apart again. Using repeated gestures, slow movement and bursts of action driven by their fear and passion, they briefly share a room that is small and yet holds them worlds apart.
A theme apparent throughout the performance is control. Felice and Kafka both want to control the way in which their relationship is conducted and the performers demonstrate admirable control over their bodies as they push, pull, extend and create repeated motifs. Both characters mention Kafka’s desperate fear, which kept him from committing to Felice and made him feel insignificant – a feeling reflected in his work.
The design is sparse – one room constructed with flimsy wooden beams, paper walls and two chairs create a setting which is destroyed with the demise of their relationship. Paper is a key element of the piece, with one particular sequence seeing Felice desperately write letters on the walls only for Kafka to stab them, tear them and miss them altogether. Both characters carry a suitcase, each seeming to represent their hopes or needs – Felice’s endless stockings, sexy negligee and dolls’ house furniture is a stark contrast to Kafka’s solitary suit jacket.
Moving, elegant performances are complemented by music that varies somewhere between eerie and romantic, emphasising the tragedy of the doomed love story. The piece would have more suited a black-box theatre than the doors and corridors of the University setting, however after enchanting audiences in Exeter and Belgium, Felice and Kafka’s love lives on through this imaginative and wonderfully devised theatre.
Küsse was performed at the Bath Spa University Theatre for one weekend only, but you can catch up with Red Room’s upcoming shows by following @MaryBSteadman.