Immediately we could tell that this play was going to be ambitious. Gathered in the round with a small, rectangular stage in the centre, we sat amongst the actors with white painted faces and already felt like we were being watched. When Joseph K. entered, he looked around at us all as though he was already on trial and it became clear that the director, Sam Ward, had done an excellent job with the staging. Throughout the play the transitions between scenes were inventive and seamless, with the actors switching character quickly and effortlessly. The scene changes were only slightly let down by the costume choice of clunky shoes for the actors, which detracted from the intense mood by stomping off and around the stage, giving the performance a messy air. This was made worse by the lack of matching costumes for the chorus figures, but other than that they were very enjoyable to watch, particularly Josie Richardson who gave a very controlled and intense performance, enticing us into Kafka’s world with her excellent physicality and fluctuation of tone.
A personal highlight was the retelling of the arrest of Joseph K., played by Alex Shavick. This particular scene was the very best of The Trial, with the abstract elements enhancing the storyline, rather than making the performance seem slightly typically student-y, as other parts appeared. It gave the audience a glimpse of what the play could be like if it was tidied up a bit, which is a quick, interpretive piece of theatre that questions normality and draws in the imagination of those who watch.
Other bits were less neat, though, with Shavick having too many long monologues, since he was not particularly convincing as Kafka’s character, anyway, with there being a distinct lack of emotion. In parts, too, it did seem like the story of an arrested man who is extremely attractive to women, and the way he seemed to constantly be being seduced by women did get repetitive, as did some of the abstract techniques that were employed – especially everyone shouting at once to highlight claustrophobia.
Yet Ward must be applauded for this new and exciting interpretation of what is, in some ways, a complicated play. The general intrigue about Joseph K and what he can have been arrested for was not lost, and as Shavick stumbled around the stage, we could relate to how he felt. The enclosed space around him gave the impression that he was constantly on trial, giving the piece a sinister edge that worked very well.
Kafka’s The Trial was always going to be difficult to perform at the BT with a cast of only six. Usually the play demands a much larger cast, and is therefore easier for us, the audience, to understand. Despite challenges faced, The Trial was a good attempt, and had many good ideas; it was just a little messy.