JOSEPH K    ****


C CHAMBERS STREET.   (V34)     10.30


This is a production by KGS Theatre Company of Tom Basden’s comic adaptation of Kafka’s The Trial. The play relocates the classic novel from the central Europe of a century ago to 21st century London.

Joseph is “arrested” on the morning of his thirtieth birthday. He at first sees this as a practical joke, especially as one of the guys who comes to arrest him he recognises as being a clerk at the bank where he has a senior position. If he signs a paper he can go to work, but then finds there are problems with his passport, his credit card…. The scene begins to darken.

This version of the novel focuses on many of the frustrating and limiting aspects of contemporary life. Joseph cannot get clear information about his case. Those due to help him can only follow the formulae that are on the computer screens before them. Go beyond that and they are as hopeless as off-task robots. Joseph’s brother has connections, and takes him to a reputed lawyer,  who is gross and idle, being more interested in his collection of dolls of the world. His intern takes an interest in Joseph,  though he later comes to think that the seduction was just an intended distraction. The intern encapsulates one of the casual injustices of employment today.

As we settle into our seats before the play starts, we hear a voice over of one of those breakfast programmes that chat inanely with callers. Here the DJ/host is talking about condiments, and a caller asks about coleslaw. An attention-getting  opening. I think of such programmes a verbal idling, of letting the engine of the mind run purposelessly. Almost like mental fingers down a chalkboard.

This was a case of getting along to an early show and expecting to pass the time agreeably. I was in for a surprise. From that opening voiceover, to the excellent Jamie Bisping as Joseph treating the arresting officers like very unwelcome flies buzzing around him, and to Miranda Worth and Liv Arnold as the arresting officers, persistent and committed to their lack of respect for others’ food (a case here of cross-gender casting working very well, a tribute to the directors, surely,) I was immersed in the surreal and crazy world presented to me.

This show was a continual delight, and the ninety minutes passed very quickly. The original text was used just as a rough skeleton, which kept the play on track as it nailed many items in today’s life. Yet it seems the novel’s ending had to be kept. This seemed to me sudden and tagged on. It seemed a pity that this final scene could not in some way have been integrated more into the kind of entertainment we were experiencing.

But this is a small carp. This was an excellent performance of which the youthful cast should be very proud.

Tony Challis