It’s a rare occasion that I go to the theatre and know nothing about the show I’m seeing. I mostly see Shakespeare play wise and, spoiler alert, it normally ends with a kiss or a death. Or both!
I’ve read some of Kaftka before but was not familiar with The Trial, so going in I had no idea what actually happens.
And I left still having no idea what actually happened.
The staging in this production is one of my favourites this year. The major feature in this show is a conveyer belt. That’s it. That’s literally the stage! Sets are brought on and off stage, one after the other, but Rory Kinnear’s Josef remains onstage throughout, the dramatic world moving round him, going at a different pace to him, while he is just stuck there. Going nowhere, going nowhere. The inescapable circle of life. Like a mashup of Lion King, ‘Mad World’ and that dance number by OK Go!
A giant keyhole suspended above the stage reinforces this feeling of confinement. And the stage itself is literally locked in by four walls of peeping eyes, being in the round. The audience becomes the peeping neighbours, making us not only observers but also participants. This is especially true in the scene at the end, as we and the other characters can only watch what happens.
The script isn’t exactly the most accessible, but Kinnear’s eloquence in the face of in-eloquent language is admirable. His inner monologue are tongue-twisting and can come across as alienating at first, but Kinnear does his best to deal with this. At the start of the play, Josef is quietly confident if somewhat awkward, and his transition to the state he finds himself in at the end is heartbreaking. Kinnear’s physicality in this role makes the sheer desperation of Josef palpable.
Kate O’Flynn is spectacular, so good in fact that it took me until halfway through to realise that it was her playing 6 different characters! Her scenes as Josef’s neighbour are a particular highlight, and their interaction is natural in an other highly stylized piece. Also noteworthy is Hugh Skinner, who doubles up as Josef’s colleague and also Block, an animalistic shell of a man. I like to think that they could be iterations of the same character, that behind closed doors this high level banker is Block, similar to the doubling of the King and Porter in Macbeth.
The show is not without it’s problems, hence only 3 stars. The lighting makes you feel as though you are inside a tan bed and I don’t mean on the bed, in it, inside the light itself! But I did like the use of lighting in general, just takes a while for your eyes to adjust! The main problem here is the text and script. The inner monologues of Josef feel clunky and unnatural. It takes a while for the audience to actually get used to the rhythm of these speeches and the language itself, and that’s Kaftka all over, alienating! So alienating in fact that you could tell that some were switching off.
Also, as an modern audience, we like plays with a beginning, middle and end. It doesn’t matter how we get there, or if we as an audience are deceived along the way, as long as we get there. The problem with The Trial is that we get a definitive end, but no real beginning as we start in media res, and no real middle either. I felt as if nothing actually happened, which wasn’t helped with repeated lines echoing throughout. Each time I heard ‘I could f*** you right here’, I didn’t think, ‘Oh, that’s an echo of an earlier scene, how clever’, I thought, ‘Wait, they said that an hour ago and what’s actually happened since then?!’ That’s not a critique of the acting or staging, but more of the original text itself and the choices in this adaptation.
Verdict: A visually impressive production staging wise, but let down by the text itself. Kinnear and O’Flynn shine in this, which is hard given the glaringly orange lighting!