Mark Ravenhill consistently identifies malignancies in society: consumerism, warped parenting, Hollywood’s – and, by osmosis, our – trite take on terrorism. Now he does the same with management culture in the premiere of his latest play, an inspired, free adaptation of Kafka’s novel Der Prozess, usually translated as The Trial.
Published posthumously 90 years ago but written 10 years earlier, the novel’s relevance to successive generations is indubitable. With his customary lateral thinking, Ravenhill gives a contemporary spin to the chilling tale of a protagonist entangled in an interminable series of hearings for an unspecified crime.
He directs his satire not at the legal world, the obvious target, but at the trickle-down effect and unthinking acceptance of management mores and occupational psychology. So Joseph Kay – a blistering performance by Sam Troughton, oscillating between impotent rage and collusion with the system – is up against the obliteration of personal responsibility by a corporate mindset and of individual choice by lack of access to the big picture.
There is some lack of differentiation between characters – Kay’s boss is replaced by a near-identikit (both played by Caroline Catz with varying degrees of sarkiness) – underlining uniformity of thought in this dystopia.
A comically blatant disregard for well-being is played out almost like pantomime with the flogging of Kay’s inquisitors and the play throbs with an underlying priapism. The lawyer and painter, both male in the novel, are women (Marion Bailey and Gaye Brown) drawn without gender cliches. The dissonant and effective soundscape segues finally into crackling rain and thunder, reminiscent of the stormy prelude to King Lear’s madness.