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The Hunger Artist Review

Reviewed by Lauren Russell

The Hunger Artista raw and honest account of one man’s over-commitment to his art. Deep red light covers a metal barred cage in the centre of the stage, and inside sits the Hunger Artist, played by Jonathan Sidgwick, who is slummed onto straw in the middle of the cage breathing, or rather wheezing, with difficulty. 

Written by Franz Kafka, this solo performance from Sidgwick has been highly anticipated by theatre makers such as Steven Berkoff, who advised Sidgwick to perform this Kafka piece for his debut solo show when he was working with Berkoff on productions such as Messiah, and Oedipus. And I can see why. Sidgwick held the audience from the first moment until the last, and it was captivating. 

The direct address throughout, in such an intimate venue,created an uneasy feeling for the audience in watching this man starve himself to death for his art, his ego, and our entertainment. Although the spotlight is (literally) on the Artist, the piece is continuously casting a light on those who are captivated by his starvation. He tells us of people from all over the world, coming at all times of the day and night: children staring into his cage, and people giving him a poke. The ‘malace’ in them discussing him ‘cheating’ and the frustration and indignation it brings. ‘But the world was cheating him of his reward’, Sidgwick tells us with sunken eyes and visible ribs. 

Throughout the play there is many moments of self-reflection for the audience, especially those devoted to their art. What does it mean to be an artist? It forces us to consider how we feel about how others perceive us and the power this has over our success and our mental wellbeing. As even at the peak of the Hunger Artist’s career, travelling across countries with his manager for the attention of hundreds perhaps thousands of people, some still doubted him. And it was this that the Artist spent his valuable energy contemplatingEven in his final days, when he could fully commit to his art without a 40-day feeding ceremony forced upon him, he was not content by instead caught up on how the circus crowds raced past him to the animals without so much as a glance into his cage.

Obsession is a stand out theme; when does your art take control of you, so much so that you give everything to feed it? (Or in this case, starve for it). For the Hunger Artist, hewishes to go on fasting and fasting, receiving attention and reach the best record, and in achieving this he physically deteriorates until his blends in with the straw in his cage. The final conversation really spins the perspective on the whole piece and is a striking demonstration of Sidgwick’s diversity and ability as a performer.

Sidgwick’s physicality and embodiment of the ever-weakening character brings this dark text to life. Kafka’s final piece of work, edited on his deathbed, and this being the centenary year of his death Sidgwick couldn’t have chosen a better time for his brilliant debut solo performance. A stripped back, vulnerable, and gripping delivery of The Hunger Artist; an absolute must see!


The Hunger Artist plays at Etcetera Theatre in Camden on Saturday 23rd March (sold out) and on Tuesday 26th March 2024. Tickets from

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