The Trial | Malthouse TheatrePhotos - Jeff Busby

Now part of our day-to-day lexicon, the term Kafkaesque refers to something that is darkly complex, bleakly disorientating and often involving a threat to or loss of personal freedom. Of all Kafka’s works, The Trial makes the most pointed remarks about the concepts of freedom, both within the law itself and on the broader concept of self realisation and spirituality. Adapting this seminal novel for the stage is quite a challenge. Despite the surrealist nature of the text, there needs to be a clear narrative and a way to anchor the humour inherent to the text.

Lutton’s interpretation, adapted for stage by Louise Fox, is a mostly lumbering affair that seems much longer than its one and a half hour playing time. The humour feels tacked on and fails to lift the entire production out from the depths of confusion and gloominess that seems to be its default position.

From the outset it appears that Ewen Leslie, who received rave reviews for Richard III (Melbourne Theatre Company) doesn’t appear to be all that comfortable in the role of Josef K. His confusion and indignation over his “educated and sophisticated” arrest doesn’t embody quite enough truth to lure you into following his journey with much sympathy. That said, the sequencing of events leads to more confusion than coherence, and the cast of seven work hard to tell this story within some odd directorial choices.

The revolving stage works well to a point, but becomes something of a distraction as time goes on, with several farce-like chase scenes going on for too long. There are a few scenes which make great use of it, including an innovative set change in the scene where K is searching for the plumber. Claude Marcos’s set is wonderfully designed; the hidden wall revealed at the end is highly sophisticated and executed in perfect timing. As Ks journey progresses, so too does the austerity of the set, stripped back to bare wood by the end. The sound design is typical of a Lutton production; it’s raw and evocative and suits the piece extremely well.

There are some wonderful performances in The Trial. The ensemble cast supporting Leslie do an admirable job within the framework they are given. John Gaden, Rita Kalnejais and Perth actor Igor Sas are standouts. Gadon’s turn as the priest who delivers the parable within a parable "Before the Law" (published before The Trial), is the highlight of the evening.

There are some provocative moments in The Trial. Seeing nameless defendants stripped down to their underwear and scampering around in circles on the revolving stage, afraid and isolated, leaves a lingering mark. Igor Sas playing Rudi Block, another accused man, gives us real moments of anxiety, sympathy and discomfort when we watch him reduced to nothing but a slave of the lawyer’s time and bidding.

Unfortunately, despite these highlights, the cumulative effect of The Trial is underwhelming and a test of one’s patience, rather than the darkly funny tale it could be.

Malthouse Theatre, Sydney Theatre Company and Thinice
The Trial
Adapted by Louise Fox | from the novel by Franz Kafka

Director Matthew Lutton

Venue: Merlyn Theatre, The Cub Malthouse, 113 Sturt Street Southbank Vic
Opening Night: Wednesday August 18 @ 7.30pm
Dates: 13 August – 4 September, 2010
Times: Tuesdays At 6.30pm, Wednesdays To Saturdays At 7.30pm, Sundays At 5pm. Matinees: Thursday 26 August At 1pm, Saturday 4 September At 2pm.
Tickets: $23 – $49 + Min Booking Fee $1.50
Bookings: / 03 9685 5111

Sydney Season
9 September - 16 October 2010. Opening night 14 September at 8.00pm
Wharf 1, Sydney Theatre Company, Pier 4, Hickson Rd, Walsh Bay
Box Office: (02) 9250 1777 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting (02) 9250 1777 end_of_the_skype_highlighting.
Tickets: $30 - $75 (transaction fees may apply)

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