The Trial

An expansive stage space is dominated by assorted wooden furniture, with some pieces decked out in opulent reds and golds. The contrast between the dilapidated scenery and the luxurious colours in which they are bathed confirms this adaptation of Franz Kafka’s The Trial as maintaining a relevance for rich and poor, young and old. It is also immediately established, with the emergence of stony-faced actor-musicians, that the approach of People Zoo Productions will be to maximise the darkly comic nature of Kafka’s writing through enhanced physicality and absurdly exaggerated characterisation. This is the dominant feature of the production, which guarantees a thoroughly entertaining performance whilst still delivering a thought-provoking message.

Holstead’s vivacious performance does succeed in creating sympathy for the protagonist’s plight

As in Kafka’s unfinished novel, early on in this version we encounter the arrest in his bedroom of Josef K. by two bouffon-esque guards, Franz and Willem. This unlikely and hilarious sudden turn of events is played out well through the interchange between Matt Holt and Evelyn Roberts in these roles which are the first indication for the audience that K. is set against a force of invisible bureaucrats, able to dictate and manipulate his future life. In these early moments, the stylised confusion and surprise of William J. Holstead’s K. sets perfectly the tone for the remainder of the performance.

Indeed, Holstead is wonderfully loose-limbed and rubber-faced throughout, and his unusual manner of traversing the stage space enhances the otherness of the world presented. His ability to switch between thoughts and emotions make Holstead’s a suitably unpredictable performance, with much comedy created accordingly. The entire multi-roling cast here have their particular moments in the spotlight, with Amy Gavin’s Elsa bringing a comic sexuality which reveals some of K’s more human frailties, while Sarah Legg is an imposing presence as the duplicitous Huld, alongside Adrian Palmer’s successfully caricatured portrayal of the manipulative Titorelli.

The entire performance is entirely entertaining, awash as it is with slick transitions, finely-crafted character relationships and strikingly visual images. In part, it is the high points of the comedy that underscore most effectively the lines of Kafka that resonate most profoundly. His characteristically twisted logic and, for K., infuriatingly manipulative use of language, ensures that rationality and order are always just out of reach, and that such concepts as ‘innocence’ and ‘freedom’ are reduced to abstraction. Holstead’s vivacious performance does succeed in creating sympathy for the protagonist’s plight, and the famous last words of The Trial are thus imbued with a poignancy of surprising strength as the result of his prior tribulations.

Reviews by Joshua Clarke

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Performances

Location

The Blurb

Josef K wakes up one morning, hungry and disconcerted, only to find himself arrested. He is not told why, nor by whom. He does not get to eat his breakfast. And so begins The Trial. People Zoo Productions brings you this grotesque and darkly comic adaptation of the Franz Kafka classic novel that tracks one man’s struggle against a malicious and faceless power. Fighting against ritual humiliation, impenetrable secrecy and unfathomable procedure, can Josef K prove his innocence? Kafka’s novel, adapted for stage by Evelyn Roberts and Matt Holt, is as relevant today as it has ever been.