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The Trial

Young Vic, London

Immediately refreshing is Nick Gill’s interpretation of Kafka’s The Trial: ‘It’s not a parable like 1984, it’s not a criticism of existing or potential terrifying social structure’. So many seek to align Kafka’s novel with big-brother culture, picturing it sat snugly on Julian Assange’s desk next to a cup of coffee. Rather, he maintains that it is ‘more of a study of a bloke than it is a study of the state as a social structure’. Focussing on Kafka’s explorations of psychological guilt in the modern world, his production’s greatest merit is evident in Rory Kinnear’s portrayal of the protagonist, Josef K. Kinnear is the glue of this production, by far its most valuable asset. The acclaimed actor juggled rehearsals for the show alongside filming for the new James Bond film and despite being present on stage for the entirety of the two hours, did not show any signs of tiring. His performance is another reminder of how fine an actor he really is.

Sat at wooden benches, the audience is thrust into the role of an observing jury. Miriam Buether’s stage design is intriguing and the events of the play unfold on a moving conveyor belt. At times this works very well, accompanied by some strong choreography. Alongside Kinnear, Kate O’Flynn generally flourishes as his neighbour Rosa. O’Flynn plays a further five different characters in the production which is nothing short of admirable. However, she performs best as Rosa and initially her conversations with Josef K capture Kafka’s sense of hopeless tragi-comedy.

Unfortunately the production drags on, gently dimming  in its initial promise. In fact, it grows a little tedious. One scene, in which Josef K is tattooed is somewhat bewildering. It is accompanied by blaring pop music, which seems out of place with the remainder of the production. It is an ambitious technique but seems like a slightly manufactured way of leaning towards the absurdity of the plot. The production is too long and gradually we lose interest and compassion towards K’s plight. Credit to Nick Gill for embarking on the mammoth task but this production falls short and is ultimately a little disappointing. I would recommend it for Rory Kinnear fans: Kafka fans stick to your dingy apartments and report to the magistrate tomorrow morning.

  • Drama
  • Adapted by Nick Gill from the Franz Kafka novel
  • Directed by Richard Jones
  • Designed by Miriam Buether
  • Cast includes Rory Kinnear, Kate O’Flynn, Suzy King, Sian Thomas and Steven Beard
  • Young Vic, London
  • Runs until 22nd August 2012
  • Review by Sam Pengelly
  • 27 June 2015

About The Author

Reviewer (UK)

A couple of years ago Sam resigned to the fact that he was not going to make it as a professional footballer. Now, studying in the final year of his undergraduate degree of English Language and Literature at University College London, he is passionate about a broad range of literature. In particular, he loves the works of Pinter, Stoppard and all of the crazy twentieth century absurdist dramas. Sam also writes and performs poetry around London, and also enjoys making music with his band, Connor’s Yoghurt.

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One Response

  1. Mel Cooper

    I have to say that I was probably more impressed by the production of The Trial than Sam Pengelly; but far less impressed by the adaptation of Kafka. in fact, I would argue that this is less an adaptation of Kafka’s novel than something inspired by it — The Trial of a parallel world, not the one that Kafka wrote.
    The text of the actual novel is far more menacing in mood; far less interested in internal psychology in a Freudian sense than in the experience of frustration and injustice under a narrow, bureaucratic and ultimately Totalitarian system of government; and consistent in its ability to turn the screw of weirdness and menace ever tighter. Also far clearer in evoking the fear of something unnamed in the background. It needs an Alfred Hitchcock approach.
    In Nick Gill’s text there is also the added problem of the quasi baby-talk monologues of Josef K, which I found distracting and largely unnecessary. Is it the stream of his consciousness? or the babble of his unconscious searching for a reason that he would feel such guilt just because he is “an accused” and not because he is actually guilty of anything? The novel is tightly knit, technically controlled and the ending much more swift, shocking and disturbing than the one we see enacted on Miriam Buether striking set. I found that seeing the play made me want to go back and check its effects and ideas against the original novel, which is a good thing; and that the performances and staging were consistently intriguing and apt.
    Rory Kinnear’s committed performance was startling in its technical (and physical) dexterity as well as its ability to make one empathise and sympathise with his character. The entire company deserves praise. Richard Jones has done a fine job of staging Kafka’s novel. The disconnect occurs because he has had to use Nick Gill’s parallel-world text which is far more superficial than the novel.

    Anyway, we had a nice evening!


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