I’ve found it quite difficult to put into words my feelings about the Young Vic’s new production of Kafka’s The Trial, hence why this review appears about a week after I actually saw it. Suffice to say it is one of the most mind-bogglingly extraordinary productions I have ever seen, heavy concept, which could get tedious, united by some superb acting by Rory Kinnear as Josef K.
Before going any further, however, I should admit that, despite being an English Literature student, I have never in fact read The Trial, so if you’re hoping for comparisons between the book and the play, then this is not the review for you. All I knew going in was this was a famously complicated plot about Josef K, arrested and put on trial within the complex court system for a crime completely unknown to him. I did have a quick scan of the synopsis on Wikipedia as I was sitting in my seat, but it was so lengthy and complicated that my overwhelming thought was “Screw it, I’ll pick it up as I go along”.
Instead, I focused on the auditorium. The play was situated by designer Miriam Buether in the round, with a long thin stage in the middle, covered by a yellow block with a large keyhole in the middle showing us a glimpse of the travellator on which most of the play would be conducted (more about that later). Around the sides of this, the more expensive seats were laid out like wooden judicial benches, while those of us who chose the cheaper seats (only £5!!) were still given a pretty great view from up above and all around. We the audience became a character – the ‘neighbours’ who Kinnear frequently gesticulated to and accused of spying on him. I always like a production that gets the audience involved in some way, or breaks the fourth wall, and Kinnear did this with aplomb; without disturbing the action too much, and in an amusing, yet not gratuitous way.
The script, written by Nick Gill, ranged from a standard speech pattern when Josef K was around other people, to this weird, more primitive language for his private quasi-soliloquies: “ee musten trial focus”, which reminded me of A Clockwork Orange. Kinnear was excellent at showing the shift between the two, the relatively affable everyman becoming suddenly far more confident and visceral and threatening when on his own. He was on stage throughout the entire two hour performance, and yet the energy never dropped; there was always a sense that he was giving it his all.
This was matched by Kate O’Flynn who played most of the sexualised female parts, haunting Josef K’s mind from the beginning, as lap-dancer Tiffany, to the end, by way of sex-crazed schoolgirl, alluring next-door neighbour Rosa and the sexually-abused cleaner at the court. Sian Thomas was also great as a chic lawyer who won’t stop talking, and Hugh Skinner (from W1A) was also fantastic at the several parts he had to play (especially as a dog-like client, panting across the stage).
The aforementioned travellator was conceptual without being distracting, moving us swiftly through Josef’s flat to his workplace to the court etc. and strengthening the impression, also enforced by the constant phrase repetitions, that “everything belongs to the court”, and the sense that Josef K is on an unstoppable track to his destiny through his trial.
So, in case you hadn’t noticed, I think this production is absolutely amazing; even though it was two hours without interval I was never bored or hoping that it would end. It may have been one of the most confusing plots and productions I’ve ever seen, but the acting is amazing, the concept is interesting, and – well, I still may not completely understand the plot, but it got me thinking, and really, that’s what I want from theatre.
The Trial at Young Vic Theatre: 5/5 stars