Review: Gruesome and funny - RSC's The Jew of Malta
Review: Tennessee Williams adaptation One Arm, Southwark Playhouse

Review: Rory K is Joseph K on the nightmare travellator in The Trial, Young Vic

The_Trial_FINAL_326X326I've only read one Franz Kafka novel and that was purely to impress my then boyfriend who said it was his favourite book. I didn't find it a page turner.

Fast forward a few years and the Gate Theatre put on a play called Joseph K based on Kafka's The Trial. Didn't much enjoy that either mainly because I didn't really understand it.

So, why go and see another stage version of the same novel? Well, there are two reasons. First: it is at the Young Vic which is one of the most exciting and innovative theatres in London and has had a pretty good run of outstanding productions recently. Second: Rory Kinnear. Have long been a fan of his work, even before he wore eye-liner in Last of the Haussmans and then gave an award-winning Iago in Othello.

In The Trial Rory K is playing Josef K and perhaps it's the years that have rolled by since that first Kafka read and the eclectic range of theatre I've watched since the Gate but my appreciation and understanding was far greater this time. Me and Kafka got on much better but that isn't to say I'm now a huge fan.

The staging reminded me a little of The Good Soul of Szechuan with Jane Horrocks a few years back: all stark lighting and plywood. There was another similarity that was only revealed once the play began. The Good Soul had conveyor belts and The Trial's set opens to reveal a travellator with Josef K sliding into view being entertained by a stripper (Kate O'Flynn in the first of many roles) on the eve of his 35th Birthday. It is the last time Josef K has any fun, if that is indeed what he is having, he doesn't look particular happy as he then stumbles home and falls into bed. 

The travellator is a powerful metaphor in a play of powerful metaphors about identity, loneliness, the legal system and bureaucracy. It is an absurd nightmare with Josef K getting arrested but never told what for, defended by a lawyer who's not allowed into court and advised the best he can hope for is to delay the trial indefinitely.  Everyone knows who Josef K is but he doesn't seem to have any real friends. He gets sucked into the system and his inevitably futile attempts to get out destroy him.

Rory K is on stage for the entire two hours and works hard as the increasingly frustrated and angry Josef K. Kate O'Flynn must get some sort of award for the most costume changes in one play as she works her way through a dizzying array of characters such as stripper, cleaner and school girl.

The travellator staging is intriguing and used really well although I did get distracted occasionally wondering how they were getting the props and bits of set back to the other side of the stage to reuse for scenes later on. I was disappointed that they didn't use it for the curtain call. I really wanted to see the actors all slide graceful into view and then disappear again. Opportunity missed, I think.

@PolyG thought the production was trying too hard but I'm not sure I entirely agree. Yes you can feel like an awful lot of different things are being thrown at you but I've rather enjoyed mulling them over since.

The Trial is not a light evening's entertainment although there are some laughs. It has moments which get under your skin but I'm not eagerly awaiting the next Kafka adaptation. It is two hours without an interval and you can catch it at the Young Vic until Aug 22.


So easy it feels like cheating. Rory Kinnear has worked with Mr W quite a few times (Hamlet, Richard II, Skyfall and Spectre).