K

Written by Stuart Murdoch & cast
Arches Award For Stage Directors in association with National Theatre of Scotland, Traverse and Tron
Traverse Theatre Edinburgh
(2006)

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Past winners of the Arches Award for Stage Directors have included a variety of different styles and techniques, as well as unusual concepts. Stuart Murdoch's winning work is a chilling and unsettling piece of physical theatre. Almost devoid of dialogue, the cast of three enacts a 4th wall-defying vaudevillian nightmare in which the audience becomes a character itself.

The underlying narrative is straightforward enough; a man, named K, arrives late to the performance of the play is pulled out of his seat and thrust through the side-stage door and into a strange abstract world which exists partly onstage and partly on a screen projected onto the stage wall. The purpose of his kidnap and imprisonment on the stage becomes increasingly apparent through the actions of the 'actors' Sharron Devine and Phillip Weddell.

Russell Loten plays the titular role of K; his work beginning some time before the commencement of the play, as the illusion of his being an audience member extends fully into the foyer of the theatre. His reactions mimic those of anyone in his situation, only moving into a more stylised and abstracted performance after he is thrust off the stage and into the non-world of the play. As such, we are led with him through the strangeness of his situation and purposeful yet bizarre actions of the 'actors'; with Loten almost a crutch of normality. Devine and Weddell, on the other hand are positively bizarre in their roles of Frieda and Jeremiah; their opposite styles compliment each other without ever seeming forced, Devine's meekness and tears, highlights the manic nervous over-enthusiasm of Weddell. However the frequent exchanges of quick looks also neatly underpin the relationship between the characters, whilst leaving an air of ambiguousness until the very end.

The inspiration for this play came from Franz Kafka's book The Castle and the dual themes of isolation and confusion in the face of an unknown power are apparent throughout, and resonate with those of K. The play is short at just over 40 minutes, and were it not for the impact of the final scenes in making the audience both understand and feel resolutely uncomfortable, it would feel abrupt. Any longer and it would run the risk of becoming either too alienating or explaining itself too much.

Reviewer: Graeme Strachan