Franz Kafka meets The Office in UK writer Tom Basden’s black comic transposition of The Trial to modern day Britain.
Having just returned home from a jog, bank middle manager Joseph K takes delivery of his usual sushi lunch.
This time, however, it comes with an arrest warrant delivered by a pair of volunteer process servers. One of them works in K’s office. The other has food issues and has eaten half of his California roll.
The absurdity of the situation leads K to conclude that this is some kind of wind-up perpetrated by his colleagues on the eve of his 30th birthday.
Keen to seem in on the joke, he reluctantly signs a form and unwittingly sets in train a mystifying quasi-legal process that takes him into the deepest circles of customer service hell.
And the further Joseph descends, the blurrier his mission becomes. His upper crust, doll-collecting lawyer seems to be doing nothing for him. He starts to hear his name being read out among the football results. Is Joseph being victimised by the state? Or is this socially isolated, work-focused young man simply losing his mind?
Basden cleverly translates the bureaucratic labyrinthe of Kafka’s dystopian vision into something very recognisable: a world of teleprompt messages, malfunctioning Google Maps and omnipresent surveillance cameras. The people and processes that drive Joseph to the edge are the same things that plague us on a daily basis.
This Secret House production is something of a change in tune for what has been a largely classics-focused company.
Released on a tight budget in a claustrophobe’s nightmare of a space, director Sean O’Riordan’s production is solidly mounted and detailed though it lacks the sharper edges (especially in scene transitions) Basden’s script demands.
The performances are good but tend toward shrillness. As a result, the play is tilted from deadpan absurdity and toward farce. Basden’s black and very British humour cuts through, however, and Danen Young performs strongly in the title role.
Phoebe Heath, Michael Brindley, Matt Bartlett, Georgia Brindley, Elouise Eftos, Tim Kemp, Deborah Faye Lee and Naomi Lees swap character hats very fluidly though I note the original UK production (2010) was made on a cast of four – a potentially much more disorienting scenario.