The expectations and contradictions of the modern world are explored in Deborah Gibbs’ well-meaning but heavy-handed production inspired by Franz Kafka’s The Trial. Our protagonist Amy K, after Kafka’s Josef, is told one morning to shut her curtains as “they are watching”. She is consequently late for work and her day spirals downwards from there on in. Throughout her day in this contemporary dystopia Amy encounters variously unpleasant characters who castigate and criticise her for being inferior, from psychotic managers to an over-zealous gym instructor. The point is clear: we have been conditioned by modern society to conform absolutely to the ideals of a life mediated by images and technology.
The issues at Amy K’s heart are important but Gibbs sadly doesn’t give us the chance to engage intelligently with them.
It’s a worthy message but one that is simply too big for the production to contain. Our reliance on social media is attacked, as are the diet and clothing industries for promoting unrealistic expectations for us to aspire to. Our current mode of capitalism is also criticised, especially its need to blur the lines between leisure time and work time. There are entire shows that only deal with one of these problems, or even certain aspects of them. In trying to tackle them all, Amy K addresses none with any depth and gives us no room to breathe: Amy is relentlessly hounded by these social systems and the result is less Kafkaesque and more incoherent.
Stylistically, Amy K owes a great debt to Berkoff’s original adaptation of The Trial but what was original back then now just looks like ensemble physical theatre by numbers. The depictions of a bustling city as a machine being driven by profit and in which we are nothing more than cogs are competently choreographed and ably performed by the nine-strong company but they don’t offer us anything new.
Individual performances do manage to impress. Victoria Blackburn stands out as Amy; the ensemble revolves around her and she’s solid enough to carry the physical routines as well as the more emotive moments. Most of the characters don’t have nearly enough to do although Laura Pujos manages to turn the Landlady into an intriguing presence and Xelia Mendes-Jones shines as Amy’s vicious mother, all clipped consonants and maternal efficiency. Occasional musical interludes feel out of place but they do at least give the cast the opportunity to showcase their impressive vocal ability.
Ultimately though, Amy K’s problems are almost entirely textual. The great strength of Kafka’s novel, and indeed of Berkoff’s play, is that Joseph K’s crime is never revealed, we remain as in the dark as him. Not only does Amy K find out exactly what the cause behind her day’s problems is but the reveal and problems it throws up are dealt with in a blindingly obvious way, at times literally descending into a sermon. The issues at Amy K’s heart are important but Gibbs sadly doesn’t give us the chance to engage intelligently with them.