If I have a prediction about The Trial at the Young Vic, it’s that every reviewer will mention the conveyor belt and three out of five of them link it to The Generation Game. The auditorium has been gutted and re-built with stacks of ‘juror’ seating in plywood encasements either side two moving rubber pavements surmounted by a massive orange-painted box with an equally massive and probably symbolic keyhole cut in it. At least you won’t recognise it as the same space in which the same director gave us Annie Get Your Gun seen through a letterbox.
Clearly, it’s clever. Set by Miriam Buether, who did Earthquakes in London [and, also opened this week Bend It Like Beckham]. But, like the rest of Richard Jones’ production, it wants you to know that it’s clever and for all the audience applauded enthusiastically at the end of the performance, there were plenty of drooping eyelids and heads rested on the convenient plywood panelling in the two-hours-no-interval that preceded it.
Rather like Headlong’s visceral production of Orwell’s 1984 at the Almeida/Playhouse last year, The Trial is easier to read than to stage and being such a familiar literary oeuvre retains the self-conscious texture of diligent dramatisation. Your mind does wander. At one point, I counted the audience. 372, if you’re interested. And wondered whether the juror sitting behind me was actually Jake Gyllenhaal or just a lookalike.
Jones could be making a brilliantly surreal dramatic point, though. After all, Kafka’s book is about being involved in something difficult that you can’t influence or stop, and without knowing exactly what’s going on.
But then, it grips you and you begin to see past the staging and actively enjoy some of the performances. Rory Kinnear’s painstakingly layered disintegration as Joseph K is bound to get him award nominations, even if some of his monologues are delivered in the gobbledygook language of comedian Stanley Unwin whose description of Elvis Presley as a “wasp-waist and swivel-hippy” wouldn’t be out of place in Kinnear’s staccato teenage confessions.
There are flashes of violence – flogging, and forced tattooing which had a touch too much of the Hoxton hipster to be truly terrifying. The 16-strong ensemble provides an equal mix of distinct cameo characters and melded, menacing background. I liked Sian Thomas’s helmet-haired lawyer, speaking fluent nonsense but perfectly mimicking the cadences of the legal profession Kafka despised, and Hugh Skinner – the gauche and lovestruck personal assistant ‘Will’ from BBC’s W1A – perfecting the speech of corporate bollocks as the knobhead you’d meet in any city office.
In the book, Joseph K ends up skewered with a knife, in the staging his demise is more decorously achieved with crematorium curtains and organ music.
Not visceral enough, given the strong meat in the rest of the piece.
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