The nightmare scenario created by Franz Kafka is totally absent in Nick Gill’s lacklustre adaptation of The Trial (Young Vic), directed by Richard Jones.
Josef K’s thirtieth birthday begins with a knock on his door from two sinister agents in tremch coats. They’re from an unidentified agency, here to arrest him for unidentified crimes. But this is no birthday prank – it is a matter of life or death. So begins K’s dark descent into a series of bizarre humiliations and compulsive procedures.
The book, on which the play is based, suggested Primo Levi, predicted the time when it was a crime simply to be a Jew, while others saw it as an eerily accurate anticipation of Communist bureaucracy. Yet this version which is an awkward blend of comic absurdity and dramatic thriller, has no specific setting or timeframe. I sit supposed to be the dark past or an ominous future in its look at the workings of a terror state? Furthermore the emphasis on surrealism means that the action rarely feels sufficiently sinister. Gill here stresses Josef K’s sexual peccadilloes as the character tries to recall his past sins but this approach seems to me to be severely limiting.
Designer Miriam Buether has constructed a travelator that bisects the theatre with the spectators ranged in tiered wooden rows on either side as if waiting to reclaim luggage at an airport, and whisks us from Josef K’s bedroom to the bank where he is an associate vice-president, and on to a labyrinthine legal office. We are presumably meant to be in a garish, brightly lit courtroom watching a life unravelling, but without a firm sense of reality, it is hard to get involved or be moved by what we are witnessing.
The saving grace of this production is a fine performance by Rory Kinnear as Josef K, an individual who has made the mistake of not playing by the rules because he doesn’t even know what they are Kinnear’s morphing from indignant outage to panicky paranoia, with his thoughts conveyed through semi-articulate monologues that search in vain for meaning, does at least convince us of the protagonist’s predicament Kate O’Flynn makes the most of her roles as the various women in the stale including Rosa who occupies the adjacent flat and the lapdancer who haunts his imagination
Plays until August 22
Box office: 020 7922 2922