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The Trial

Sian Thomas and Hugh Skinner in The Trial at the Young Vic Theatre, London. Photo: Keith Pattison Sian Thomas and Hugh Skinner in The Trial at the Young Vic Theatre, London. Photo: Keith Pattison
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“Kafkaesque” has become shorthand for describing a particular kind of nightmare, defined by freedictionary.com as ”marked by surreal distortion and often a sense of impending danger”. It is also the hallmark of a lot of the work of director Richard Jones, whose previous work at the Young Vic has often been about becoming trapped in distorting nightmares including Public Enemy, The Government Inspector and Six Characters Looking for an Author.

Director and author are therefore ideally matched for his startling new theatrical version of Kafka’s novel, first published in 1925, and here scripted by Nick Gill. The sense of disorientation is established from the moment you walk into an entirely reconfigured Young Vic. The audience is arranged in pew-like rows constructed like giant jury boxes on either side of a thin tongue of a stage cut through the middle that’s actually a travelator, swiftly bringing a rolling set of locations: Josef K’s bedroom; lap dance club; corporate bank office where he’s a vice president.

Miriam Buether, a designer who plays with space more than any in British theatre, has again pulled off something amazing, and it totally implicates the audience in the action as powerless observers of a living nightmare, in which Josef K stands accused of a crime that neither he nor we know the basis of. Josef K could be any of us.

Rory Kinnear brings an increasingly anxious, sweaty and ultimately nerve-shredding fear to facing this bureaucratic legal nightmare, with the astonishingly transformative Kate O’Flynn as a series of women who come into his path. Director Jones is always good at producing galleries of grotesques, and there’s outstanding work from Richard Cant, Sian Thomas and Hugh Skinner amongst a superb ensemble cast.

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It might be tempting to call The Trial a trial, but it's actually gripping, if gruelling, going