The Trial, written by Franz Kafka and adapted in this production at the Young Vic by Nick Gill, is a surreal and fascinating play.
The Young Vic is transformed by this production. The audience sits around the stage in podiums fit for a jury and there is a massive conveyor belt through the space, which is where the majority of the action happens. Raised above this platform is a huge hanging keyhole: this is a very significant symbol of the play’s overriding theme of being watched.
In the first instance, director Richard Jones makes it clear that these characters and situation are surreal, with larger than life (to the point of grotesque) characterisation from the smaller characters. This is not off-putting but amusing, and a perfect complement to the dreamlike script.
The protagonist Joseph K. is arrested, but for what reason no-one knows. The guards, his lawyer and himself are not allowed to know the reasoning behind his trial, but advise him to plan against everything he’s ever done wrong. The accused will only find out what he is accused of after the verdict has been made. Therefore K is forced to petition a defence for his life. At moments throughout the play, K confesses that at the age of 13 he watched his friend’s sister in the shower; while aged 28 he knocked a homeless man down, cracking his skull and, walked away. The Trial becomes a constant nightmarishly search for K’s possible defence for something he knows not.
Rory Kinnear is phenomenal as Joseph K. Kinnear is a seasoned theatre actor and his clarity and intentions are impeccable. The role requires a huge amount of intensive energy and Kinnear bottles the character’s circumstances and releases them gradually, as at one point he breaks and almost transforms into a dog! References for such are cleverly woven into the text and such a thing in such a surreal piece does not seem out of place. If Kinnear can muster this energy every show, it will be a feat fit for an Olympic athlete.
Another shining star is Kate O’Flynn, who plays various parts including Rosa, the main love interest of K and Cheryl, a wonderfully naive school girl, amongst several more characters. Each of O’Flynn’s parts is well defined and very specific. O’Flynn especially plays the goofy and desperate Cheryl with aplomb – I smiled every time she came back on in this role
Through images such as litigators dressed as homeless people, the insanity of Kafka’s world is apparent and if you do not accept the bizarre then you will not enjoy this production. The Trial shows a world gone mad, where everyone follows the laws but no one knows them. With papers and documents piling upon you, you are buried in them completely and left to your inevitable fate.
As the conveyor belt churns out new scenes, it does feel like you are in the tortured mind of K, who when in public speaks perfect sense, but when alone breaks his speech into disjointed soliloquies of half words, only made clear by Kinnear’s spectacular performance of them.
The Trial is bizarre to watch – and should be! In a world gone insane, I’d be disappointed to see anything less, and Jones’s take on it is threaded with symbolism that only a mad mind would appreciate.
The Trial is playing at the Young Vic until 22 August. For more information and tickets see the Young Vic Theatre website. Photo by Keith Pattison.