WHEN Newcastle playwright Carl Caulfield, his wife Felicity Biggins, and their two daughters went to Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic, while holidaying in Europe at the end of 2015, they encountered one problem after another.
A fierce snowstorm compelled them to make an unexpected stopover en route while driving from Paris to Prague.
When they arrived a day late they were told that the man who owned the apartment in Prague they had booked had gone away, so they had to spend that night in another lodging.
Fortunately, the man returned the next day and they moved into the apartment.
And at the end of their Prague visit they had a frightening encounter with two border police who came to their car while they were getting petrol before crossing into Germany and demanded to see permits that would let them exit from the Czech Republic, or else give them 2000 euros as a payment fine.
Carl dug 50 euros out of a bag in the boot and hid the rest of their money. The disgruntled corrupt police let them go, and they wasted no time in getting to Germany.
Still, they had enjoyed their stay in Prague, including a visit to a house that was once the home of Czech writer Franz Kafka and had become an archive where original copies of his short stories and novels were held.
Kafka, a member of a Jewish family, was often told by Czech officials and Jewish leaders that what he wrote was offensive and threatened to take action against him.
He fled to Germany, fell in love with Dora Diamant, and the pair lived together for a year, until Kafka died of tuberculosis in 1924 aged 40 .
Carl jokingly said to Felicity after they left the Czech Republic, that "there could be a play in this".
But he soon took his remark seriously and wrote a play, Postcards from Kafka, which looks at the experiences of Professor Marcus Murray, his wife, Joclyn, and daughter, Maddie.
When the Australian academic goes to Prague after learning that two Czech university students have found lost writings of Kafka, including postcards that he sent to associates, he hopes that he'll be able to acquire them for his university.
And, as happened to Carl and his family, the professor has problems with Czech police.
The contemporary scenes are interspersed with episodes from Kafka's late-life relationship with Dora Diamant. So it's appropriate that the play has some actors moving between two roles.
Newcastle Theatre Company is staging the premiere production of Postcards from Kafka at its Lambton venue from May 31 to June 15, with Carl Caulfield directing.
The cast is headed by Richard Murray as Professor Murray, with Tracey Gordon as his wife, Joclyn.
The actors playing two roles are: Ashley Prisk, as the Murrays' daughter, Maddie, who wishes she'd stayed at home, and Dora Diamant; Tim Blundell as Franz Kafka and Jiri Zelzeny, a university law student in his 30s who heads the staff at Prague's Kafka cafe and often pretends to be Kafka; Charlotte Gapps and Dez Robertson as two Czech policemen, with the pair also playing the two Czech students who have what they say are real Kafka documents.
The play has Kafka's wording on postcards that the students claim to have found being read out.
Carl notes that the play is darkly funny and often moving, with suspenseful moments when characters find themselves in danger.
"It's very much a physical and emotional wild ride for the actors and the audience," he said.
The play is also very demanding of the cast. When Caulfield's family, for example, were interrogated by the Czech cops, one spoke in broken English and the other had no English.
That is also the case here, as the inability of the family to understand much of what the cops were saying added to their fears about what could happen.
Caulfield has people who are versed in the Czech language helping the actors to get the right pronunciations.
Postcards from Kafka has a charity preview on Friday, May 31, at 8pm, with the official opening on Saturday, June 1, at 8pm followed by a 2pm matinee on Sunday, June 2.
The show then has 8pm performances on Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday, until June 15, plus a 2pm matinee on Saturday, June 8.
Tickets: $35, concession and student $30. Bookings: 4952 4958; newcastletheatrecompany.com.au
... the play is darkly funny and often moving ...
Summer of the Seventeenth Doll
Atwea College, at the Community Arts Space, Hamilton. Thursday and Saturday, at 7.30pm
THE timelessness of Ray Lawler's classic Australian play, set in the living room of a Melbourne boarding house in 1953, comes through, with the acting students making the characters, most in their late 30s, very relatable.
Rachael Cook, as Olive Leech, the daughter of the house owner, brings out her feelings for Roo Webber, one of two Queensland canecutters who have spent their five-month off-season for 16 years there.
Phoebe Aletras, as Pearl, a friend of Olive's who is replacing the departed companion of the other cutter, Barney Ibbot, is more sharply worded as the newcomer.
Josh Mitchell (Roo) and Brett Edman (Barney) likewise have differing viewpoints.
Acting teacher Lia Bundy, who took over the role of the mother, Emma Leech, at the last moment, makes her amusing and frightening; Alex Foster is a chippy new canecutter on the lookout for a female partner; and Jessica Morgan is delightful as the girl next door, Bubba Ryan.