thu 25/04/2024

The Trial, Young Vic | reviews, news & interviews

The Trial, Young Vic

The Trial, Young Vic

Richard Jones, Nick Gill and Rory Kinnear turn the dramatic screw on Kafka's nightmare story

Rory Kinnear's Josef K dogged by his Uncle Albert (Steven Beard) minus audience and question/exclamation marks on the text blocksAll images by Keith Pattison

Kafka and Jones, the names above this little shop of horrors, would be a marriage made in off-kilter theatreland had the Czech genius written any plays. He didn’t, so Nick Gill has made a well-shaped drama out of the assembled fragments of which The Trial consists.

It offers an exhaustive role for Rory Kinnear, never offstage for the unbroken two-hour duration, and lets director Richard Jones revert from the warm humanity he’s most recently been unable to resist in Wagner’s The Mastersingers of Nuremberg and Puccini’s The Girl of the Golden West back to his favoured world of discomfort and compulsion immaculately choreographed.

On the travelator tonight we have assorted orange bins, lampshades with Titian Venus and Alsatian designs, china dogs, tables of photos from family groups to Charles Manson, beds, desks, doors all moving on and off in perfect synchonicity with David Sawer’s deliberately horrid organ score. Bathed at first in an uncomfortable orange light, courtesy of Jones's resident genius Mimi Jordan Sherin in cahoots with designers Miriam Buether and Nicky Gillibrand, the rest of the scenery is the audience banked either side. Many of its members look not so much like courtroom public as victims lined up against pinewood boards waiting for their mugshots – and on the first night there were some seriously good actors in the crowd seemingly playing up to expectations.

Rory Kinnear as Josef K in the Young Vic's The TrialThe alienated not-quite-innocent revealed when the giant keyhole rises up from the travelator is Josef K (Kinnear pictured left), gawking at lapdancer Tiffany. Speaking on waking in a stream of consciousness that seems part baby talk, part James Joyce – a clever if tricksy way of transforming the novel’s third person narrative – he’s not an easy subject for Kinnear to handle. Soon, though, the switch to mundane everyday language hints at a virtuosity that only occasionally makes itself obvious.

When the first explosion comes nearly two thirds of the way through the unbroken drama, it has all the greater an impact. The pacing of K’s memories of youthful “crimes” – young Kinnears are similarly plastered on the walls as we enter; the shape of things to come – is well handled, too, the last two actually achieving the pathos Kafka and Gill rigorously deny us elsewhere. Quite apart from the timeliness (or timelessness) of the surveillance society reflected onstage, where Kafka’s fantasy doesn’t need much twisting, we can all imagine being in the position where, though we’ve nothing major to confess, minor misdemeanours return to haunt us.

Sian Thomas and Hugh Skinner in The TrialWe also have to get inside Joseph K’s head, and Jones’s production manages this as uncannily as the brilliantly recessed text of the printed play (published by Oberon Books), when language ceases to resonate. As Sian Thomas’s Mrs Grace (pictured right with Hugh Skinner as barking Block), the lawyer who’s supposed to bring succour to the helpless protagonist, quickly begins to bore and befuddle us, her meaningless rigmarole has to retreat into the background while the next scene’s prepared. As often with Jones’s slow-burn production sense and his inexorable symmetries, the canine references in her furnishings and on the colour telly will make sense later, along with the ineffably timed barking offstage (even the sound effects seem part of a musical score).

The only note of reassuring ordinariness other than K’s bewildered protests comes from Kate O’Flynn’s sweet-natured neighbour Rosa, but the actress also plays five other distinctly uncomfortable roles. The court room drones and supplicants are vividly characterised by a mixture of professional actors and Young Vic community actors. There are some great faces here to set alongside Richard Cant’s Male Guard and Hugh Skinner’s Block, the defendant reduced to canine dependency. What Kinnear’s K is reduced to, and how the travelator fulfils its most sinister function at the end, you’ll just have to go and see. Comfortless it may be, but such brilliantly skewed theatre is not to be missed, least of all at London's buzziest theatre.

We can all imagine being in the position where, though we’ve nothing major to confess, minor misdemeanours return to haunt us


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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Fascinating that this gets good reviews across the boards when audience members left mid performance during previews to escape the mundane tedium of the adaptation. I'm calling emperor's clothes on this one, and I'm really not sure that Kinnear's speechifying helped the play.

'Mundane tedium' is part of the essence, surely? Though obviously if that were the only thing, people would have been justified in leaving (I also can't believe the National's Caryl Churchill revival can be as bad as painted by the bored, so must see for myself if it's still on).

Call it emperor's new clothes if you like, but I found the deliberately tattered gown very rich in patches.

So months, maybe years of preparation takes place for productions like this. And then something goes wrong - people are bored and hate it. What theatres continually fail to do is put the actor at the heart of it the actors who make or break it because they are the living medium through which we receive a play. You HAVE to have actors who can make the script live. They don't have to be perfect, but a scale from at worst Sian Thomas's thin characterisation but nevertheless somewhat alive, up to Rory Kinnear's total immersion in his role, is what is needed. The fact crappy community 'actors' were included - and that Jones is a director who is unable to teach acting - meant the stagnancy piled on, where real supporting actors could have characterised and helped clarify the intention of each scene. But acting mastey is now sacrificed to social engineering, and producers at major venues obviously merely see acting as a possible ticket to being spotted and stardom, rather than a notch on the way to artistic mastery. They are obviously eager for actors to share the imagined booty with those 'less fortunate', ie people in full-time jobs probably, and their own pay off is therefore brownie points for saving the 'local poor' by taking wealth and opportunities out of the hands of greedy actors.Horribly wooden performances were an insult to Kinnear. My friend and I cringed every time these tiresome people, who don't need the work, appeared. Can you imagine if the design and all the rest of it were done by amateurs? The design was magnificent, the translation and directing were promising, but the only way is down for such productions at theatres who hamstring the ambition for the sake of moral laurels. So blame David Lan...

The amateur/community actors didn't have speaking roles. And whether or not Jones can teach acting I can't say, I wasn't present at rehearsals - where does your take come from?- but I know his rehearsals are extremely rigorous. Singers who aren't used to it love it. Would be good to hear likewise from actors about how it was working with a rather unusual master.

My point is not about Richard Jones. He and his team potentially did a great job, but it is punctured by deathly acting which stops the momentum. I know what goes on at the Young Vic and it will be the Young Vic's casting inclusion policy which supersedes actual ability, and Richard Jones will have had willingly or unwillingly to go along with that. Not that all the bad actors were these ones. There were more. And how insulting to actors everywhere that you do not agree that good acting should be at the heart of theatre. You do not understand acting if you think it is just about speaking a line,and also if you think the director makes them act. Actors who are able to act are able to interpret what a director asks and bring a scene to life. If an actor can't interpret, can't understand, focus, react, saturate themselves in the moment, everything is deadened for the audience and the performances and efforts of others are compromised. All the cogs need to be oiled and the energy to be kept afloat - especially in a 2-hour performance. We all used to hear legions of tales of bad acting students getting slung out of drama school (before the era of degree courses), and there was a reason for that - hamstringing a production for everyone else.. I know about Richard Jones's methods via directing networks and I am not actually criticising him for not teaching people to act. Blimey. Can you really not accept that good acting is at the heart of a good production and that acting jobs on the finest stages should be given for merit?

You seem to be picking a quarrel when I'm really not sure at whom in this production you're directing your indignation. The spoken roles, in my opinion, were well taken and characterised. I actually didn't think it was Kinnear's finest hour, but I tried to work out why that should be. You seem to be confusing the Young Vic's policies of engaging the community with the fact that the spoken roles were all taken by at the very least competent professionals. You haven't acknowledged my point on that one. So what's your precise beef, in a detailed nutshell?

Just reread and think about it. Every other review and its comments agree that the production was largely tedious and I am offering up a big and educated why - which originally was a comment following other people's comments, not a letter to you personally. Look, you like the production and think amateurs are equipped to perform with the nation's finest theatremakers, so you won't get it.

Not good enough. Your 'educated' argument was inconsistent and didn't add up to me, I asked you to clarify, you come back with 'every other review...' etc, which is hostile rathert than balanced. Of course I can take a contrary view, I just need it to make sense.

Others are more than welcome to join the argument, of course.


Surely using community actors in this production makes absolute sense, given the themes of the play? Whether or not you agree with them being used regularly in Young Vic productions (to be honest, the way you talk you sound yourself like an actor, maybe struggling, with an axe to grind...?), in this particular work I thought extending the metaphor to include actors chosen from the community as well as the audience themselves made perfect thematic and artistic sense, and added an extra layer to this, in my opinion, superb interpretation of the novel. In addition I disagree as to the abilities of the community actors. I saw this production yesterday at the matinee and thought, at that particular performance, that the unspeaking ensemble did a fantastic job. They added some real variety and authenticity of look to the cast and never detracted from the main focus of the action, exactly what supporting actors should do. After all, if using regular Joe Public is good enough for film and television (I myself have worked as a supporting artist in both media, and believe me, I'm no actor) why should it not be good enough for theatre? I say bravo Young Vic; long may this outreach to the community, and calibre of production continue.

Hear, hear! And my questions to Sarah C remained unanswered: the memorable faces of the community group didn't require spoken dialogue, did they? In which case why claim they let the side down? I just don't understand the beef at all, and despite being told to "just reread" remain confused about what the commenter was trying exactly to say.

I should point out that a large community group was used in the Royal Opera's production of Poulenc's Dialogues of the Carmelites, very successfully. Their presence as a threatening crowd around the action added to the effect, they seem to have fallen in love with opera, and thanks to the cheap seats their friends and relatives got, I learnt from one proud mum that she'd been twice, despite never having seen an opera before, and wept buckets. More of this, please, if it's done with the right sort of care.

Setting all the arguments above aside, this play was incredibly boring.

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