Someone must have been telling lies about Joseph K because, on the morning of his birthday he’s arrested, his Boots’ card points are wiped and his MasterCard swapped for a Solo card. This is Tom Basden’s retelling of Franz Kafka’s ‘The Trial’, a play which beautifully supplants the original’s paper-pushing nightmare into our modern age.
Joseph K, an arrogant and self assured banker soon becomes increasingly paranoid as he attempts to make sense of his arrest in a world of bureaucratic lunacy. Customer services are familiarly useless, his eccentric and elitist lawyer inept and the window glazer's just looking to sell his ornamental paper weights. The question of innocence and guilt is entirely absent as he struggles against this invisible and illogical law.
Pip Carter perfectly portrays K’s desperation as he tries to maintain his professional exterior and makes him both empathetic and yet dismissive in his dealings with others. Sian Brooke, Basden, and his fellow comedian Tim Key play an ensemble of minor characters to great effect. This clever device not only makes the audience and K question whether they are who they say they are, but more importantly lets Basden display his brilliant versatility and Key deliver his hilarious, off the cuff, one liners. These scenes abound with razor sharp wit and satire and if they detract from K’s plight it is perhaps understandable.
Unfortunately, the difficulty of concluding Kafka’s unfinished novel is evident in the final scene. The play's sombre conclusion matches the book's and yet it appears far too definite for a story which resists resolution. However, by transposing Kafka’s bureaucratic dystopia into a world resembling our own (K’s oyster card is cancelled, a Facebook photo used as a mug shot) Basden has captured the absurdity and horror of the 1920’s novel, making K’s situation both hilarious and scarily believable.
By Jon Davis
Joseph K at the Gate Theatre runs until Dec 18th. Tickets £16.