Detaining Mr K

James Douglas
24:7 Theatre Festival
New Century House, Manchester
(2009)

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There is nothing sneaky or underhand about the way writer James Douglas has used ideas from Kafka's famous character Josef K in The Trial as this connection is explicitly and repeatedly referred to by the characters in the play and then turned on its head in intriguing ways.

Anthony (Anthony Bentley) is a college lecturer who has been taken into custody without charge or explanation and questioned about the student he has allowed to lodge in his spare room, who, he is now told, blew himself up by accident on his way to commit an act of terrorism. His latest questioner is Pauline, who wears a business suit and slippers, offers him tea and Gypsy Creams and spends almost as much time moaning about her ex-husband as she does talking about Anthony's situation.

Of course Anthony denies having any knowledge or involvement in the attempted bombing and there are the inevitable ponderings over human rights issues surrounding the 'detention without trial' aspects of anti-terrorism legislation, but then sympathies start to turn away from Anthony when information emerges about his unexpected views and the "private group" that he lectures for. Just as the play seems to be drawing up a case in favour of the detention laws, it twists again and suggests that maybe it is playing into the hands of those it seeks to defeat.

This play has an intriguing concept and some quite chilling conclusions in its political discussions and its various twists. It just takes a long time to get to the real meat of the story, with a lot of chatter at the start leaving not enough time to really develop the more interesting arguments later on. The conceit of an interrogation from a chatty woman with tea and biscuits is an interesting diversion and a nice change from the more conventional prison and interrogation plays that festivals and competitions such as this one always attract, but in some ways it gets in the way a bit as well.

Overall a great concept that gives audiences something to think about but the play needs to focus more on what it is really trying to say and cut away some of the jokey decoration.

Reviewer: David Chadderton