Rory Kinnear embodied the frantic Josef K masterfully. In this adaptation by Nick Gill, Kinnear speaks in fragmented sentences, revealing his troubled subconscious in his soliloquys. Kinnear brings you into Josef’s collapsing consciousness, forcing you to absorb the language of his inner mind. What appeared to be inarticulate to begin with becomes articulate. We’re submerged into the mind of a man struggling against invisible powers, which invade his thoughts to find the guilt that lies within us all.
Kinnear referred to the audience as his neighbours, watching in judgement as he is placed under arrest for an unknown crime. While sat around him in our wooden stalls, watching him plead his innocence, we also appeared to be his jury. This was an eerie means by which to add to the sinister nature of Kafka’s famous plot.
We, the audience, were made to feel implicit in the judgement against him – as he proclaimed his innocence directly to us. We are forced to sit and watch the spectacle of Trial unable to address his claims that we play a part in his damnation.
The set design was integral to the brilliance of this play. Using a travelator as the stage upon which Kafka’s dystopian narrative is told heightened the terror of Josef’s life, dictated by a form of justice entirely of his control.
Walking with the travelator allowed the characters to rush through scenes of the play with momentum; but in scenes when Josef struggled against the higher powers controlling his life, he walked against it, which paused the momentum of the play. The play was only ever going in one direction. This was a powerful design emphasising life is easier if you do not try to swim against the stream.
The moving stage also added to the gruelling struggle Josef K faces; Kinnear looked as if he had just come out of a long session at the gym by the end of the play. This enhanced the anticlimactic nature of the ending in which this arduous journey ends without redemption for Josef.
The play has received mixed reviews, but then so did Kafka – few of his works were actually published during his lifetime. Milan Kundera wrote of Kafka’s novels how ‘people don’t know how to read Kafka simply because they want to decipher him. Instead of letting themselves be carried away by his unequalled imagination’. The play asks the audience to do just this, to be carried away into the uncomfortable world of Josef K. It is not a play you should go to see if you want an easy ride; Josef does not get one and so the play is written and designed to ensure that neither do we – just as with Kafka’s novels.
Only go see this play if you are willing to submerge yourself into the Kafkaesque mind frame and allow the play to carry you away. If you plan on watching to decipher, you will lock yourself out of entry into the mind of a man condemned, for crimes he can only guess at. It is a surreal opportunity, but only an open mind will be able to enter another.
‘The Trial’ is running at The Young Vic from 19th Jun 2015 to 22nd Aug 2015.
You can find more information on Young Vic listings here.
By Jenny Sterne