The Trial | ThinIcePhotos - Jeff Busby

As I was leaving the Subiaco Theatre Centre after the opening night of The Trial, my overwhelming feeling was one of “what was the point of that"?

Yes, the performance, a co production between Thin Ice, Sydney Theatre Company and Malthouse Theatre, was interesting, with moments of shock and curiosity, but I found there was nothing to grasp hold of or to enjoy. Whilst that may have been the point (the play is adapted from the book by Franz Kafka), it was a bleak and occasionally tiresome performance.

Kafka died in 1924 before finishing The Trial - a parable about human condition and fragilities. Adaptor Louise Fox has translated Kafka's novel, which is primarily told via narration, into a 90 minute theatre piece. The script is choppy and almost absurdist in parts, and ends abruptly (like the book). 

On the morning of his 30th birthday, Josef K gets arrested for a crime unknown to him. No one will tell him what he has been accused off, and K finds himself on trial with no apparent reason or conclusion. Throughout a year he meets an assortment of people in his quest to make sense of the absurd machinations of the legal system.

Directed by Matthew Lutton, the cast of seven perform and cope admirably with the absurd elements and constantly changing characters and scope. Only one performer (Ewen Leslie) remains as one character - that of the bewildered and mentally tortured Josef K. The other six play a variety of one dimensional characters; judges, lawyers, colleagues, lodgers and lovers.

Ewen Leslie has been making quite a splash recently, with two Helpmann Awards (MTC's Richard III and STC's War of the Roses). Simon Phillips calls him the "actor with the talent, wit, sensibility and sheer bravura to succeed" (in regards to playing Hamlet).  

In The Trial, he is the standout as he embodies Josef K, a 30 year old man who suddenly had no idea what is real and what is not, who is scrambling for answers and not finding any. Leslie has perfected the bewildered emotions and seems to have no trouble at being thrown across the stage then leaping up and franticly snogging another character.  

Rita Kalnejais and Belinda McClory play the women who entice and seduce Josef K. The program bills it as erotic. I would bill it as stereotypical, over the top, slightly repulsive, and distracting. Which is partly the point I’m lead to believe, but did we really need that much incessant groping on show?

John Gaden was the other standout for me in a number of his characters, in particular Huld the lawyer and the Priest. Amongst the craziness of the production, his characters were regal like, powerful, although unfriendly. Peter Houghton, Hamish Michael and Igor Sas round out the cast. 

Costume designer Alice Babidge kept it simple, with suits and outfits in neutral colours, even white or black underwear (seen in multiple scenes). This matched the primarily neutral coloured set designed by Claude Marcos. The set consisted of one rectangular room with two walls and a few doors. The room was on a revolve, which was used to great effect in the latter part of the performance. Latter sequences had farcical elements as the set spun around and around and it was fascinating to watch.  

Despite not enjoying the performance overall, there are some remarkable components and individual performances in The Trial. If you can deal with lack of character and any realistic narrative and conclusion, it’s a worthwhile production to see for its artistic elements.

ThinIce, Melbourne’s Malthouse Theatre and Sydney Theatre Company
Adapted by Louise Fox from the novel by Franz Kafka

Director Matthew Lutton

Venue: Subiaco Arts Centre
Dates: October 22 to 30 October, 2010
Bookings: BOCS | (08) 9484 1133

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