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Kafka’s The Trial

Feb 26, 2015

“She’s got one,” says Joseph K, holding up the entrance wrist-stamp of a front-row patron. “They’ve all got them,” he says, looking around the room in panic. In his mind, the audience is in on the conspiracy against him.

Franz Kafka’s The Trial has been adapted for the stage by the people of Adelaide-based Black Cat Theatre. In trimming the whole novel down to about 75 minutes, they have done a good job; after the opening 12 minutes or so, which featured some meandering dialogue, the script gets down to business, sweeping away many of Kafka’s weird plot turns and staying with the essentials.

Joseph K is door-knocked out of bed one grey morning by the (secret) police and taken away to an odd sort of trial for crimes unknown in a place much unknown; the charges have been brought by people who are pretty much unknown and no one is really sure what they are about.

Generations influenced by the later Animal Farm and Brave New World often see this work as another emblem against totalitarianism. Kafka was ahead of his time, many will say, pointing to Stalin and Hitler, Franco even; a metaphor for the Abbott Australia to come? Still, the Austro-Hungarian empire that Kafka knew did have its secret police and Kafka would have been no stranger to their interventions. So K is arrested on trumped up charges, right?

The question of this piece revolves around how much of this is in K’s head. How much guilt does he carry around; how much is paranoid projection and delusion? Is this realism or expressionism?

Apart from the example given above, no great sense of this question was given in the Black Cat production. Hugh Scobie’s K is indignant from the first about his arrest, but reveals little desperation. Merridee Rohrlach is impressively conflicted as Frau Grubach and also plays the narrator who keeps the story together. Sasha Krieg comes close to the surliness of The Inspector, while Adam Bates provides some comic relief as The Examining Magistrate.

Black Cat’s effort to bring The Trial to a Fringe audience is to be commended. The list of serious theatre has been shrinking from the Fringe program in recent years and this young group deserves a good audience.

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I had the feeling that the opening-night performance was just beginning to gain real momentum in the last 20 minutes, so it would be interesting to see the show again in a week. It is an ambitious piece to present and this group of young actors is giving it a good shot.

Black Cat Theatre is presenting The Trial again at the Kings Hotel, 357 King William Street, tonight (February 26) and March 3-5.

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