The Trial

The performance erred too much on the side of the grotesque rather than the uncanny, but it is an interesting and highly watchable piece

Venue: Black Box Theatre, Department of Theatre, Film and Television, Heslington East
Run: 8th- 10th December 2011
Director: Rebecca Murphy
Producer: Tommy Savage
Rating: ***

Berkoff’s stage adaptation of The Trial is a very challenging play, and at its best showcases the alienation which has come to characterise German theatre, as well as the original works of Kafka himself.

The director’s vision, as set out in the programme, is of a performance which speaks to the logic of nightmare. Although this is never fully realised in the performance- which erred too much on the side of the grotesque rather than the uncanny- it does make for an interesting and highly watchable, if not hugely sophisticated interpretation of the script.

The set, which seems to be a kind of post-industrial shell, is perfect- and along with some very apt music, the scene is set from the moment you enter the space. The lighting and production have, in general, been managed very well- and the decision to keep Joseph K in his pyjamas throughout the performance had a nice air of exposure to it.

Ryan Lane, in lead as Joseph K, doesn’t show a huge emotional range. This is not necessarily a bad thing- but I did take issue with the fact of his constant cheerfulness. If the play is indeed a nightmare, then it is a nightmare the audience experiences through K. As it is, K seems not unperturbed but rather cheerfully incredulous of his situation until almost the end of the play. Alienation is all very well- but it must be felt in the right places, and an unsympathetic Joseph K makes the performance quite difficult.

The chorus is very creatively used, and although I’m not usually a fan of the choral element I had no problems with the very practical usage of this one. Again, however, that emphasis on the ‘caricature’ portrayal rather than torturously realistic is somehow misplaced; although the chorus are used to good effect, there is a sense that the concept has been slightly misdirected, which is a shame. The Guards, for example, who arrest K initially are sexualised in this performance- which to me doesn’t fit. There’s nothing sexual about arrest, and I felt that this was included as a rather basic attempt at making the audience uncomfortable. Instead, it just looked odd.

One character which particularly piqued my interest was that of Titorelli, played by Samuel Williams. The physicality and accent of the portrayal were fantastic, an absolute joy to watch- but where Williams succeeded in capitalizing on the comedy of his part, he failed in adding to the feel of the whole. The character became an oasis of humour, when that humour could have been made to work harder as part of a cohesive and nightmarish performance.

And that’s what the play wasn’t: nightmarish. And it should have been- the director, in her note, concurs. It has the grotesqueness of nightmare without the sophisticated fragmentation and recognisability- it’s more like a child’s vision of a nightmare, featuring figures which are intended to be creepy, or scary.

This is a very credible effort at a demanding script, and deserves to be praised for its originality if not its sensitivity. It’s still not quite where I wanted it to be though, and there are many less polished elements which to be frank aren’t worthy of the parts which work perfectly. This is a play which falls sadly short of greatness- and ends up being O-K.


  1. With the amount of reviews you have written this term James, I am still waiting for you to write one that is an actual objective review instead of a self-aggrandizing pat on the back to yourself and your literary knowledge.

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