Writter: Franz Kafka
adaptation: Steven Berkoff
Director: Noel Cahill
Reviewer: Liam Harrison
“Before the door stands the doorkeeper”
Kafka’s famous parable ‘Before the Law’ works as a refrain throughout Steven Berkoff’s anarchic adaptation of The Trial. It tells of a man who seeks access to the door of the law, is refused, and then waits before it his whole life until on his deathbed he is told that the door was only ever meant for him. It is an unfathomable riddle which takes on the guise of working with its own unquestionable logic – it is this logic where No Drama’s production takes their cue.
The performance places us in a theatre of misdirection, of constant background noise and actions competing for the audience’s attention. The hero Joseph K. is harassed by a metamorphosing cast who flit between portraying everyday objects, minor and major characters, and K.’s own inner consciousness. This chaotic chorus often whisper or shout lines from Kafka’s novel – “it wasn’t a joke” – as they chip away at K.’s sanity.
The audience, like K., are visually and aurally overwhelmed in an attempt to immerse them in Kafka’s world. When done well, it captures the dull relentless murmurs of the metropolis, the unending bureaucracy of the courts, and the sense of guilt which plagues the innocent. However this ‘loud aesthetic’ can overload the subtlety of Kafka’s prose, as the production relies too heavily on excess – shouting, screaming, and shock-values. The production risks missing the minor tone of ‘ordinariness’ from Kafka’s work, the understated menace which plays more on what isn’t said, and the sheer banality of the world in which it takes place.
Part of the production’s difficulties stem from the basic problems in staging Kafka. As a writer who veers away from easy representations, it is tricky not to lose part of his essential aesthetic. The enormous ‘insect’ which opens Metamorphosis has suffered a similar fate on stage, as translators and critics debate what the insect/cockroach/vermin actually is, and what it might look like. Ambiguity is central to Kafka’s written words, and some diminishment in a staged version is inevitable.
The No Drama performance explores the unromantic and sordid sex of Kafka’s world. It happens in cramped uncomfortable quarters, often while covered in food and debris, and is never wholly satisfying. This adds to an impressive physical performance, as the cast put on an entertaining show of Kafka’s debased, degraded creatures. The play could be more succinct, but there is a clear temptation to emulate K.’s exhausting and sprawling trial. The cast capture one of Kafka’s central ideas as they bound around the stage – at times half-animal, often acting “like a dog”, writhing and snarling – they maintain an awareness that they are all too human.
The physically dynamic cast are at their best when they emerge from the crowds and objects they represent to foil K., who is convincingly played as bewildered and hapless by Daniel O’Brien. Special mention goes to Greg Freegrove’s menacingly laughing guard (reminiscent of Georgie and Dim in Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange) and Louise Dunne’s dusty lawyer, who appears constantly on the edge of spitting up her inner organs.
Runs until 18 June 2016 | Image: courtesy of Smock Alley