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  • Writer's pictureCatherine Flutsch

Arthur Pita’s A Hunger Artist


Review: Arthur Pita's A Hunger Artist. Limited run at The Old Fire Station.

Arthur Pita's A Hunger Artist

This year marks the centenary of the death of Franz Kafka (1883-1924).  Kafka was a German speaking Bohemian writer known for his surreal and often bleak exploration of the human condition. Despite limited recognition in his lifetime, Kafka posthumously became one of the most influential figures in 20th-century literature, shaping modern existential and absurdist thought.


This year, Oxford University launches Project Kafka, a programme of academic and cultural activities about Kafka, his work and his legacy.  As part of Project Kafka, Oxford University commissioned renowned choreographer Arthur Pita to create a performance adaptation of Kafka’s final work – the short story - A Hunger Artist. 

Arthur Pita's A Hunger Artist
Arthur Pita

Kafka’s story follows a man who performs public fasting as an art form – locking himself in a cage while he slowly wastes away.  Public fasting was a form of entertainment that gained popularity in Europe primarily during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  During this time, hunger artists, would perform in circuses, fairs, and other public venues, drawing curious crowds. This form of entertainment began to decline in popularity by the 1920s, coinciding with the publication of Kafta’s short story in 1922.

Arthur Pita's A Hunger Artist
Edwards Watson and Meow Meow in rehearsal photographed by Rick Guest

Pita’s adaptation was performance art at its best – ironic, playful, fragmented, challenging, bleak, funny, beautiful, ugly, pretentious, and profound. Pita has successfully recreated a very literal adaptation of Kafka’s story while drawing out the many diverse themes. Despite its underground feel, the production values were exceptional.  It made me so happy to see this show as I thought that people were no longer making this type of risky, and immersive performance art. 

Arthur Pita's A Hunger Artist
Edward Watson photographed by Rick Guest

Pita has been able to pull of this remarkable feat by collaborating with some of the world’s finest artists – dancer extraordinaire Edward Watson, who plays the hunger artist to perfection - multi-talented diva Meow Meow, who plays the “impresario” and who recreates the avant-garde atmosphere of 1920s Berlin cabaret flawlessly – and instrumentalist and composer Frank Moon, whose immersive soundscape transports the audience to another place and time. 

Arthur Pita's A Hunger Artist
Meow Meo

Together, these four artists have created something beautiful and truly unique.  This show has had only a very limited run at Oxford’s fabulous arts venue, The Old Fire Station, earlier this week – but I am sure that it will be back – something this extraordinary deserves a much wider audience.  If you see that it is on tour – then snap up a ticket as soon as you can – this show is a rare jewel.


If you enjoyed this review, you may enjoy reading my other dance reviews.


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