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The Trial

Franz Kafka adapted by Joshua Nawras and Felix Mortimer
Retz
Shoreditch Town Hall

The Trial Credit: Camilla Greenwell
the Trial Credit: Camilla Greenwell

This is not a straight dramatisation of Kafka’s unfinished story but more an immersive production that puts you, the audience member, in Kafka’s situation. After arriving at the appointment time you have been given your personal details are dispassionately and routinely logged into the system, indeed you may find some of them are there already. Then you are told to wait.

I was called then told it was an error (this is all about unsettlement) and there was more delay before I was directed down some stairs. I passed a woman sitting in a corner but there seemed nowhere to go except a door marked "don't enter" but, after I'd hovered indecisively she asked, “Are you there for the meeting? Go in” the woman asks after you have hovered indecisively. “Go in.” She indicates the door. My Kafkaesque journey had begun.

This is one of those shows where to tell you almost anything about it would be to spoil it. However, if you have any knowledge at all of Kafka’s book you’ll already know that its protagonist Josef K is charged with a crime the nature of which is never revealed, not even to him or his counsel, and called before a court which is secret.

At almost every stage there are warnings to be wary, not to trust the people you are about to meet. You are given a promise of an ecstasy that is fatal, told enigmatic parables and passed on from location to location in the Hoxton hinterland. You may even meet Josef K, if it is he, and you’ll wonder what happens to him. You’ll be frisked by a handsome policeman, a very polite one who may seem to be trying to help you, then sent off to a certain address in a street that lacks numbers, which may begin to get you disorientated. This is a carefully-plotted experience to help build paranoia.

I am not sure whether I reached my final destination for the first part of the experience. I waited for someone to make contact but no one did. I took that to be apart of the unsettlement and, since I already been given a date and time for when I must attend court, I decided to beat it homeward. Since this is almost entirely a one-on-one experience, another person may find things quite different.

Does this work as a piece of theatre? If you aren’t already familiar with this type of production then yes, it probably does, for it will be constantly intriguing. I found myself half-caught by the atmosphere but not convinced. Had I had taken it seriously surely I would have scarpered and, if necessary, gone into hiding. Though for people to have known where I was in the first place would imply some sort of secret surveillance. If I had done a runner earlier, would my way have been blocked? Were there watches, live or electronic? I thought there might be and hence expected to be stopped when I did leave.

Because you have been told to be wary of what you say and not to trust people, my own action was inhibited and consequently caused little dramatic conflict, just an increasing unsettling and foreboding. It doesn’t become sufficiently personal to “play” your real self and you are not given the information to assume some other persona.

The few really intense moments are set within a more drawn-out experience—but then that is part of the process to undermine and disorientate the “victim”. The director is Felix Mortimer and those of his actors I encountered were strangely convincing if often enigmatic.

But this experience is only the opener. The story continues and I will report on my trial when it happens in April.

Reviewer: Howard Loxton