STEVEN Berkoff’s The Trial is one of his earliest works, part of a series based on stories by Franz Kafka. It’s not his best play, and this is not a thrilling production.
Joseph K wakes up to find he is under arrest by an unknowable authority. He must prepare a defence without knowing what he is accused of or who accused him, receiving unhelpful advice from a variety of increasingly allegorical characters.
Kafka never finished the novel, rather fittingly given the subject matter, and so it has no satisfactory ending. The Trial is valued for its philosophical content and haunting style rather than its gripping plot.
Although well executed, Blackeyed Theatre’s staging is neither innovative nor spectacular. It fails to give the story the glitter or heart it needs.
The show is built up from Berkoff’s original production, right down to copying its famous use of white cuboid frames to create a flexible set.
The ensemble slip in and out of multiple roles, acting is artificial, mime and physical theatre techniques are added in wherever possible. There is a lot of noise – vocal sound effects, chattering and long sections of a cappella jazz which are an enjoyable relief from the over-long scene changes.
The cast even wear black tie with red variations, presumably trying to look as much like a student production as possible in order to pay tribute to the play’s student origins.
Nadia Morgan stands out from the chaotic stage world, clearly relishing the opportunity to play both sex objects and crones in quick succession.
The co-ordination of the ensemble is impressive, but the show feels mechanical. After about 50 minutes it’s plain boring. Like the Photoshop filter that makes photographs look like oil paintings, the novelty of stylised staging wears off quickly.
This is one of those productions reviewers call “a masterclass of technique”, but that’s all it is – an exercise rather than an engaging evening out at the theatre. This show has the surface of total theatre, but not the passion.