by Steven Berkoff.
Tour to 31 March 2012.
Runs 2hr 10min One interval.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 22 February.
Inventive and fluid version of a brilliant if wayward adaptation.
Steven Berkoff defined Franz Kafka for a generation of young British theatregoers. Always theatrically impressive, the definition also bore Berkoff’s physical theatre stamp. When he played the painter Titorelli in The Trial as an oversized Salvador Dali figure, the brilliant physical elaboration of gestures and expressions became a show in itself. Kafka got parked while Berkoff’s brilliance filled the stage.
Blackeyed Theatre’s revival keeps Berkoff’s design idea – a series of movable frames that form instant furniture, picture-frames or doorways, but Ella Vale’s production maintains a smoothness and pace which captures something closer to Kafka’s tone, at the cost of Berkoff’s undoubtedly startling and vigorous physicality.
Not that vigour’s lacking here, but Vale and her cast display the content of a nightmare with the fluidity of a dream. Bank-clerk Joseph K is unaccountably arrested, yet carries on working until interruptions and routine mix in his life. Berkoff ends his first act as Joseph imagines his father appearing, a shock that by itself destroys his self-confidence and induces guilt.
Reflecting Kafka’s own oppression by a demanding father, the moment divides the play between the confusion and anxiety of Joseph’s earlier experiences, as a kaleidoscope of the unexpected surrounds him, and the more extended encounters with authority that come after.
Derek Elwood turns from Father to father-figure as the nightmare lawyer supposedly progressing the defence through labyrinths like those of the Jarndyce case in Dickens’ Bleak House. As lawyer Huld, gross and incontinent, splatters across the scene, Robert Snell’s lithe Block keeps leaping onto Joseph’s back, appearing like an impulsive Dickens youth, claiming he’s Huld’s only real client and insisting on making bargains with Joseph.
This, plus the final scene with Paul Taylor’s Priest, finely delineating the slow consummation of Joseph in fear amid institutions, forms a more complex completion of the earlier, physically inventive but less dramatically developed surprises that Joseph experiences.
Simon Wegrzyn’s Joseph and Nadia Morgan as the women who provide the comfort Kafka himself evidently sought are strong, giving concise, sharp-etched portrayals in a production that captures the spirits of author and adaptor while having its own strong individuality.
Inspector/Whipper/Father/Huld/Chorus: Derek Elwood.
Mrs Grubach/Elsa/Miss Bürnster/Laundress/Leni/Chorus: Nadia Morgan.
Guard 1/Assistant Manager/Smart Man/Student/Block/Titorelli/Chorus: Robert Snell.
Guard 2/Bailiff/Manager/Judge/Priest/Chorus: Paul Taylor.
Joseph K: Simon Wegrzyn.
Director: Ella Vale.
Designer: Victoria Spearing.
Lighting: Charlotte McClelland.
Costume: Hannah Gibbs.