The Trial at the Brockley Jack Studio Theatre
Joseph K stands in a dimly lit jail cell, crazed scratchings of his name on his grey-walled enclosure. His feet are bare and his skin dirty as he flits to and fro, talking to himself and those very walls, trying desperately, and with a logical patience that begets the misery of his tale, to make sense of the circumstances that led him to being apprehended and kept prisoner for a year.
“Someone must have maligned Joseph K. Because he was arrested one morning without having done anything wrong.” Joseph begins with and repeats this line as he takes us through his story, revealing piece by piece the injustice of his tale, which all started on the morning of his 30th birthday when he was unexpectedly arrested by two unidentified agents from an unnamed agency for an unspecified crime.
Howard Coyler has done well adapting Franz Kafka’s novel into a one-man play. First published in 1925, The Trial is a heavyweight of literary metaphors focusing upon the failings of the law and the social injustices that we face in a world of conglomerate banks and giant institutions. The piece is a terrible insight into the powerlessness an individual can feel against the weight of bureaucracy. Joseph K could be any man, and his circumstances are all the more frightening for it. To take the complexities of that novel and translate it into a performance for one actor, while retaining its essence, has to be commended.
Brendan O’Rourke’s portrayal of the protagonist is intelligent. He gives us an everyday man caught in a series of events beyond his understanding and there is always a hint that he believes the system will surely correct itself. O’Rourke uses postures and accents to recount his tale, switching between them with impressive speed and providing a layered diversity to the performance.
Kafka’s novel is incredibly complex and first timers approaching this adaptation may well feel a little disorientated and overwhelmed. The script is fast and, should one lose track, it is all too easy to miss the deeper meanings contained within. The book is much the same, but the play doesn’t offer you the ability to reread. In this sense, the monologue can feel like it’s dragging, and while it builds, the show never quite satisfies with the explosive ending its audience might expect. But should the metaphors be grasped, the messages within are awe inspiring and deeply thought-provoking.
The Trial was at the Brockley Jack Studio Theatre from 23rd until 27th August 2016.