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The Theatreguide.London Review

The Trial
Young Vic Theatre   Summer 2015

To fully appreciate Nick Gill's new adaptation of Franz Kafka's novel, and Richard Jones's production of it, you have to put aside your memories and impressions of the original. 

Because in ways large and small the adapter and director, while following the outline of the novel fairly closely, have changed the whole feel of it. What they produce ultimately has an effect roughly equivalent to the novel's, but through very different means. 

The dominant sense most readers get from Kafka is of a nightmare world hiding just behind the thin facade of everyday life, in which courts are held in slum attics and grotesques appear out of the shadows knowing more about you than you do, so that it is everyday reality that seems to recede into dreams. 

Gill and Jones' play is all bright lights and open spaces, the nightmare is out there in full sight, and the grotesque and the ordinary exist in the same reality. 

Kafka's Josef K wakes up one morning to find himself under arrest. Gill's, as played by Rory Kinnear, is discovered getting a lap dance and staggering drunkenly home to collapse into the bed from which he will be roused. 

Playwright, director and actor anchor Josef in a bland and deliberately banal reality, as we spend almost as much time in Josef's bank office as with his court case, and Kinnear plays him as the sort of mid-management City boy designed not to generate much sympathy from the audience. 

In the course of the play Josef will be advised to catalogue all his life's crimes and sins to prepare for his defence, and they are all both trivial and vaguely unpleasant (a bit of voyeurism, a touch of homophobia). 

Miriam Buether has redesigned the whole Young Vic space so the audience surrounds the action in banks of seats that suggest both the visitors' gallery of a courtroom and the arena in which gladiators will be sacrificed. 

A conveyor belt runs through the centre of the stage, taking sets on and off and moving Josef from one scene to the next – a symbol perhaps a bit too obvious of the way his life is moving forward out of his control. 

That pattern continues as the production is a mix of inventions that work effectively or not at all. 

Changing the gender of Josef's lawyer allows Sian Thomas to play her as a mix of society matron and dominatrix, blending the overly familiar with the grotesque. 

But making Josef prone to interior monologues doesn't pay off, especially when they are inexplicably written in a mix of pidgin, baby talk and Yoda – 'logic say ee Court game musten play' and the like – that gets very old very quickly. 

Rory Kinnear admirably carries the entire weight of the evening on his back, taking the man from an unwise self-confidence through confusion and panic to (a bit too abruptly) acceptance and surrender. 

Kate O'Flynn plays a string of damaged women who somehow find this doomed man sexually irresistible, and impressively makes them each separate, individual and believable. Sian Thomas is strong in her scenes, as is Hugh Skinner in his as a workplace competitor. 

This is almost certainly not the image of The Trial you had as you read it. But despite a lot of missteps and effects that don't come off, in its brightly-lit and deceptively ordinary appearance it manages to generate some of the same horror.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - The Trial - Young Vic Theatre 2015

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