There has been no shortage of dramatisations of Franz Kafka’s The Trial and I remember taking on the role of the accused Joseph K in an immersive version, trudging around the streets of Shoreditch and Hoxton a couple of years back. The premise of Kafka’s tirade against authoritarianism is simple enough – an ordinary man finds himself accused of he knows not what and is thrown into an unfathomable judiciary system in which there are no answers to any questions and no exit doors save the ultimate one. Nick Gill’s new adaptation, directed by Richard Jones, pulls out all the stops to create a surreal nightmare; it is staged on a conveyer belt, running the entire length of a performance space decorated primarily in orange and purple; on either side, the audience is banked, appearing to be behind desks, perhaps a jury or a panel of interrogators or a constantly watching police force. This is a conveyer belt with no cuddly toys, just a relentless flow of merely functional furniture – singe beds, desks, chairs filing cabinets – with JK walking against the direction of its movement just to stay on board. It stops for scenes of absurdist comedy, featuring a succession of grotesques who look as if they have wandered in off the set of a Coen Brothers movie and our hero gets progressively more entangled in a web from which there is no escape. Grappling with the bleakness and psychological complexity of Kafka’s original is challenging enough, but Gill throws in modern references which make the piece still more head-dizzying and then questions the very concept of presumed innocence with a chilling post script as the audience leaves the theatre. Rory Kinnear is about as convincing a modern Everyman as the theatre can offer and he is at the top of his game here, on the belt non-stop for the full two hours. Kate O’Flynn is wonderful as all the young women in JK’s life and Hugh Skinner (yes, Will from W1A), also shines, doubling as JK’s sharply-dressed fellow bank worker and a dog. Yet, for all the quality of the performances, Gill/Jones are too preoccupied with the surreal to give the audience a firm foothold in the real world, past or present; thus we are never able to share in JK’s outrage, sense of injustice and terror, only to see them. The imagery in this production is memorable, the play’s complex themes are stimulating intellectually, but overall, the entire experience is emotionally empty.
Performance date: 30 June 2015