Unicorn Theatre, London – until 19 February 2023
Based loosely on the Kafka play The Trial, the Unicorn Theatre’s production of The Trial of Josie K – now a 12-year-old girl played by Nkhanise Phiri – retains the surrealism of the original but gives it a setting suitable for children aged 9-13.
Leigh Toney directs Katie Sims’ adaptation, finding the fun and absurdity in the grip of bureaucracy, which tightens on Josie as she approaches her teens ‘on trial’ for crimes unknown.
Phiri’s Josie is a sparkling bundle of energy who also convinces in the more serious moments recalling a family tragedy and dealing with the toll on her mental health.
As the Bureaucrat, Tom Moores’ shows his comic skill, but he also finds a thread in his character, which makes us sympathetic to his unjust working life. When he inexplicably appears dressed as a rabbit or shows connection with a piece of music, he is convincingly humanised.
Jadie Rose Hobson completes the cast as Josie’s best friend, Becca, a good foil and calm influence for her erratic pal. At first, she seems more mature – she rides a scooter, while Josie still carries a plastic toy – but as the story unfolds, more is revealed.
The original play is dark and claustrophobic, but this is softened somewhat here in Rose Revitt’s set of drawers and doors, used in more outlandish ways as the show progresses.
This is a very ambitious production that shines in the commitment of its performers and the work of their movement director (Sundeep Saini).
In tackling difficult issues relating to pre-teens in this setting, it raises questions for further discussion but doesn’t always fully convince as a version of The Trial.
However, The Trial of Josie K is an enjoyable production that never flags or becomes condescending. Its message of individuality and self-expression is a valuable one and is one well-worth telling.
The Trial of Josie K continues until 19 Feb at the Unicorn Theatre. Tickets here.
Image credits: Tristram Kenton and Mark Senior