I am familiar with Kafka’s novel about the mysterious Josef K and his unexplained arrest, with a claustrophobic series of locations and larger than life characters populating this piece of absurdist fiction. Theatrical adaptations have been problematic, notably the production by Steven Berkoff back in the 1970s (which did get a sense of both the absurd and the ever diminishing sets).
Fast-forward to 2015 and this new adaptation by Nick Gill, directed by Richard Jones, and I really don’t know what to make of it. Once you are admitted into the Young Vic’s auditorium, as an audience member you sit in the reconfigured stalls in a jury bench setting on either side of the stage, which is initially presented as a large red box with a keyhole in the top, lifting once the show starts to display a travelator on which cast members walk, kneel, thrash around, etc.
Locations do not feel small or cramped in any way, and are restricted to K’s flat (and his neighbour Rosa’s), K’s place of work at the bank, lawyer Miss Grace’s house, and various areas of the court. There are doubling up on characters (with Kate O’Flynn convincing across six roles), but really the stand-out performance is that of Rory Kinnear as Josef K who must be absolutely exhausted by a two-hour piece where he is never off-stage and has to work both physically and mentally hard throughout, due to Gill’s decision to put K’s interior monologues in a weird broken Pigdin kind of English, largely fixated on matters of sexual problems and (false?) memories from the past.
This aside, and some good supporting performances (Sian Thomas as Mrs Grace/Doctor, Richard Cant as Male Guard/Assistant/Tudor), I wasn’t sold on the changes that had been made to the original text – why change the portrait painter to a disco dancing tattooist? That set, too, although intriguing at the start, wasn’t fully utilised, although having a moving walkway helping characters along (and holding them back) is fun.