My first experience of Franz Kafka came while I was at school doing drama. I was studying Metamorphosis, best described as the play about a boy who turns into a bug. Now I didn’t fully understand Kafka’s work then – could I understand it any better as an adult now? Sadly no is the answer.
As it was my first experience at the Young Vic Theatre, I feel I should give you my first impressions – which are highly favourable. A cool and contemporary venue that really draws in a young crowd, the Young Vic is quite a hip place to come – could this be reflected in the theatre production as well?
Well the Young Vic’s production of The Trial is bewildering and challenging so the type of production that I would expect the theatre to put on.
The play opens as Josef K celebrates his birthday – only to be arrested by three unidentified agents from an unknown authority for crimes that he (and the audience) never find out about. From then on, the audience becomes witnesses to K’s spiral into a waking nightmare filled with bizarre humiliations and compulsive procedures that don’t makes sense to anyone.
Judging by the set as we walk first walk into the auditorium, there is a futuristic, soulless feel about the production that suggests no emotional attachment is required to watch the show. The conveyor belt stage designed by Miriam Buether suggests that nothing about the play or production is conventional.
In Nick Gill’s adaptation, directed by Richard Jones everything from the opening scene when Josef K is arrested to final dramatic scene, moves with great pace but no sentimentality which means it can be difficult to understand the characters and their motives properly.
But it does have to be said that there are some excellent performances to be found. Rory Kinnear as Josef K understands the emotional complexities that his character goes through, showing great ease and power in his performance that makes it the most important reason to come along and see this production.
Of course, he is more than amply supported by fellow cast members and specifically look out for Kate O’Flynn as Rosa and Chastity, Hugh Skinner as Kyle and Sian Thomas – all bringing characters vividly to life and provide great support to Kinnear’s character.
While on the one hand it fast, bizarre and fluent, the production still feels as though it is awkward and difficult for the audience to engage with in part because of the plot but also in the way in which it has been presented.
The lack of an interval is a distinct disadvantage as it doesn’t give the audience a pause to think about what they are witnessing and in turn makes everything just feel a bit too rushed and not relaxing to watch at all. Sadly, this means that the ending does feel a bit of anti climax – but Kinnear’s monologue is emotionally delivered and believable.
While it is a sharp and focused production, I can’t help but feel that overall it was lacking in coherence plot wise that the way in which it was delivered didn’t help much to clarify. But it is definitely a show to watch for the performances alone.