A Hunger Artist

theatre review (edinburgh) | Read in About 2 minutes
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A Hunger Artist
Published 08 Aug 2017

This adaptation of Franz Kafka's jet-black short story, A Hunger Artist, wings its way to the Fringe straight from New York. Brooklyn-based physical theatre company Sinking Ship have turned the tale into a visually arresting one-man show.

Jonathan Levin, a Lecoq-trained performer and puppeteer (and Sinking Ship's co-artistic director), goes from playing a manager lamenting the decline of the once-popular "hunger artist", whose 40 days of fasting pulled huge crowds, to embodying one himself, ignored and left to wither away outside a circus tent.

Director Joshua William Gelb's strikingly lit production is rich with a musty nostalgia. A white-face-painted Levin is a twinkly-eyed impresario, winning us over as he drags a battered case on stage that unfolds into a miniature theatre. With this—and accompanied by a crackling record-player—he bumblingly re-enacts the glory days of the hunger artist in eastern Europe. 

After a spot of well-handled, amusing audience participation, the tone shifts as the lithe Levin sheds his costume and transforms into the hunger artist: wide-eyed, silent and clinging to the bars of a cage.

While the show's first half is more immediately engaging, its payoff is that we, as the audience, having laughed at Levin's antics, are now compromised by this stark spectacle. The clowning casts longer, darker shadows. Whether as an allegory for the cruel fickleness of the performance world or society's gawping sado-masochism, or just as an eerily funny example of imaginative stagecraft, A Hunger Artist is a darkly glinting gem.