A Hunger Artist is one of the lesser known works by Franz Kafka, published in 1924 under the title of Ein Hungerkünstler as one of a collection of four short stories. It looks back at the former glories of hunger artistry, where a performer would starve himself for the amusement of an audience, which, with endurance artists such as David Blane finding success in recent years, feels strangely recognisable. This new adaptation from Sinking Ship Productions is what I would call ‘onion theatre’, in that it has so many layers that it keeps peeling off one by one.
“By the standards of the normal limited capabilities of Fringe shows, this is a beautiful show”
Varying from self-aware slapstick comedy to interactive, informative theatre to solo storytelling, this show adapts at every turn in an entirely natural and organic manner, peeling off another layer to reveal a new style. Bolstered by a superbly versatile central performance from Jonathan Levin, A Hunger Artist is allegorical storytelling at its most poetic. The bumbling, entertaining first half is perhaps the more amusing portion of the production, utilising a unique brand of clowning and slapstick to develop an entertaining rapport. This sets up wonderfully the more emotional, plot-driven second half, which proves quirky, but endearing, and ultimately heart breaking.
The production design on A Hunger Artist is perhaps its most striking element. The props and costume are intricately designed circus-type items, looking worn but still retaining their original lavish beauty. What’s more, the lighting design is incredible, with precise tech cues adding to the production with visual mastery. In just a small studio in ZOO, A Hunger Artist takes over the stage, gradually scatting beautiful props everywhere, and plunging the stage into colourful washes with the lighting design. By the standards of the normal limited capabilities of Fringe shows, this is a beautiful show.
A Hunger Artist is a charming, little, quirky production, proving enchanting in its distinct style of storytelling. Levin’s central performance carries the production with charisma and gusto, creating a strong and brilliantly enjoyable experience.
ZOO, 4th – 28th August (not Tuesdays), 17:45
Image: Kelly Stuart