Joseph K

Tom Basden, based on the short story by Franz Kafka
Gate Theatre
(2010)

Production photos of Joseph K

Adapted from Franz Kafka's The Trial, comedian Tom Basden's dark comedy Joseph K is a cleverly updated and often witty play. There is much for an audience to recognise in Basden's comment on convoluted procedures and invisible authorities.

Joseph K comes in from a run on his thirtieth birthday to find he’s been arrested. That is, he signs a piece of paper to say that he’s arrested, but these two men aren’t the police and they aren’t going to take him anywhere. It must all be a practical joke, mustn’t it? But when his mobile is cut off, his passport rejected and his taps switched so that the hot comes out of the wrong one, he gets stuck in a quagmire of bureaucracy trying to clear his name. And, of course, find out what it is he was supposed to have done.

The play starts well with light-hearted wit and clever updates. As the two volunteers arrest K, the laid-back banker starts to laugh and looks for hidden cameras, thinking it all a practical joke for his birthday. When he tries to find people to complain to about his arrest, two brainless employees on computers in the customer complaint centre can only log his complaints about the procedure, not about the fact that he was arrested. And no, they can't tell him why he was arrested. And no, they don't know who he should talk to.

After a while the comments on bureaucratic procedure start to wear thin. Although a gem of a performance by Basden as Bear the glazier lifts the play back up before the ending, the scenarios become all a bit too much of the same; as Joseph K gets frustrated by the lack of progress, so do the audience. While Pip Carter does a wonderful job in the role of K, starting as an in-control banker and slowly slipping down the icy slope to insanity as his control is taken away, his journey is fairly similar in each scene and becomes a bit repetitive.

The cast competently tackle the script, from Carter's engaging frustration as K, to the other three actors who take on multiple roles. Writer Tom Basden is brilliantly funny in all his characters, as is Tim Key. Sian Brooke is especially engaging in her role of the perpetual intern.

The three actors seamlessly change from character to character. Not so seamless, however, are the scene changes, which are numerous and clumsy. Although often covered by a DJ voice-over to keep the dialogue going, they bring unnecessary pauses to the action and break the tension.

The end of the play loses the dark comedy and becomes just dark. Since the comedy was what was so brilliant about the play in the beginning, the end feels somewhat empty without it. If the audience were expecting answers, they were disappointed by the confusing ending which, although a good individual scene, doesn't fit with the rest of the play.

Despite being repetitive and the dissatisfaction of ending, Joseph K's witty observations keep the ninety minutes from being dull. With a different story, Tom Basden could really shine as a playwright.

Reviewer: Emma Berge