Sunday, December 12, 2010

Joseph K, The Gate Theatre

It might surprise you to hear that a new adaptation of Franz Kafka's The Trial will make you laugh (a lot), but it's less of a shock when you realise that this version, Joseph K, is written by stand-up, songwriter, playwright and all-round-too-talented-by-half Tom Basden.

Transposing the plot - which I won't pretend to be very familiar with - to a contemporary setting, Basden takes the storyline of a man under arrest for an unknown crime that he, presumably, didn't commit, and mixes in very modern preoccupations such as 24-hour surveillance, office politics, and layers upon layers of impenetrable bureaucracy. And it is very, very funny.

Importantly, Basden fills the script with great comic lines, but a sense of the darkly absurd is maintained throughout, meaning that - like Joseph - you can never really get comfortable. In fact, you are constantly infuriated on his behalf as he comes up against an unfathomable process that won't tell him what he's meant to have done, let alone who is accusing him or how he can defend himself. And which, perhaps most annoyingly of all, couches resistance in terms like "in a sec, amigo" and "mistakes aren't really our vibe".

As Joseph tries to clear his name, he becomes increasingly erratic, to the point that we can't work out whether his hot and cold taps really have swapped round or if he's just cracking under the pressure. Pip Carter plays the part brilliantly - making you empathise with his character without actually liking him - and Basden himself shines in a couple of the more out-and-out comic roles. Overall, it's a very impressive piece, and so it's great to see that it is has been so widely, and positively, reviewed; it's only on until 18th December though, so let's hope for a transfer.

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