Posts Tagged ‘the trial’

Review – The Trial – Phillip Glass and Music Theatre Wales at Royal Opera House

October 15, 2014

I’m not a big opera fan, but I do really enjoy the music of Phillip Glass. So when I heard that his new opera … based on Franz Kafka’s classic novellette The Trial … was going to be at the small space at the Royal Opera House … well, it was a match made in heaven.

I wasn’t the only one to think that a dystopic cult novel and the American master of minimalism were the hottest opera ticket this fall … the production was sold out two months before it opened (and with stalls seats going for the fantastic price of £45, I say rightly so!). Fortunately it’s touring through November 10th so there are other chances to see it … Manchester, Cardiff, and Oxford being just a few of the venues that will host it. Now, the devoted will know that with the Royal Opera House, there are almost always a few returns on the day, so if you’re reading this in hope of getting a ticket to the London production, keep that browser open – it refreshes regularly and suddenly “SOLD OUT” becomes “BUY” … and there I was with two seats in row H in the stalls. Awesome!

So now that I’ve been, the question is: was it worth the bother? Did it meet the hype? Was it any good? I’m pleased to say, yes! (But I must caveat that this production hovered at the two hour mark …a fact which raised its value in my eyes.) Everything was stylized, with a stripped down set (iron frame bed, chairs, and table; eggshell walls broken only by seams of light and window-sized gaps), a monotone palette (that extended to the women’s hair), and a movement style that called to mind silent movies. A sense of claustrophobia was enhanced by the performers staying on the set or peeking in the windows when they weren’t part of a scene; you could never forget that Josef K was constantly being watched. And Glass’ music built like a storm surge, the pressure rising relentlessly as the trap slowly closed around our incredulous mouse. Innocence or guilt were not in question: there was simply no way to escape the conclusion of this bureaucratic machine.

Johnny Hereford was a wonderful Josef K; initially arrogant and unbelieving, at times passionate, finally resigned. All of the other performers were at least double cast and disguised well enough to move the story along despite it occasionally being clear we were watching the same person. But the narrative ruled the day, helped greatly by being performed in English. I was pulled in, and without a language barrier between myself and the sung word, the story became my world. It’s the best time I’ve had at the opera in years and I hope the rest of the performances meet with as much success as this run, in the deliciously intimate Linbury.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Tuesday, October 15, 2014. It continues at the Linbury until October 18th, then goes on tour.)

Review – The Trial (part 2) – RETZproduces at a secret location in Shoreditch

April 8, 2013

The idea of doing Kafka’s The Trial as an interactive play seems, on the face of it, both really exciting and a bit scary. It’s a well known work of literature, but I’m far away from when I read it, and I decided I didn’t want to contaminate my experience by comparing it too closely with the source material; I just wanted to see how it held up as a work of art on its own (or as an experiential performance, to be more accurate). I’d been to see the first half a month earlier, and left, slightly confused (I was unsure that it had ended) with an appointment card to the next stage of the event: the trial itself.

Part Two of The Trial starts at the Department for Digital Privacy (tucked in, I think, an underused government building not too far from Hagerston train station). The waiting room is full of a much more attractive version of bored governmental functionaries than I’ve ever had the pleasure of seeing in my many encounters with the slightly hostile bureaucrats staffing the UK Borders Agency. We, some five or six of us, were jammed in with too few seats, while some of us were checked in, some were wanded down, and … er, there was some other things taking place, but overall, the feeling was of the group of people who do work without thinking about what the consequences are to them other than possibly losing their pension if they don’t stick to the rules, whatever they may be.

Once I was finally “processed” at intake, my real journey began. My suspicions are that what I was doing was somehow mirroring the plot of the trial itself … friendly people not in the system … being told by a chipper departmental functionary I’d been flagged as guilty and needing to be punished, not because of any crime I’d committed, but because of an analysis of my propensity to do illegal behavior … a room with a bit of food … something read to me too quickly to be understood …

I knew other people were likely doing these things both right behind me and in parallel, and that each person in each room was having to go through a fairly set script. But I didn’t know what I was supposed to do. Was I, as the protagonist, only allowed to take the position of Josef K, of protesting my innocence? I decided that it was better for me to say yes, I was wrong, and for the good of society it was best that I be dealt with appropriately and according to the laws of the land. In some ways, this is because I’ve been dealing with so much bureaucracy since I became an immigrant, and read so many things telling me about my guilt “as an immigrant” for ruining the UK, and how I need to follow every pointless rule that exists to the letter, that I’ve given up fighting for my rights. I’ve been trained to placate the bureaucrats. And somehow, I think, my approach was throwing off the actors. The happy ones dimmed, the evil ones softened, the hard core rules mongers seemed not to know how to maintain their place in this different society.

Unfortunately because of the feeling I was just moving through rooms full of actors, I was never able to completely plug in to the experience, and when we got to the final scene, I felt pretty clear about how the audience was being managed. Ultimately, as a polemic against the all-seeing eye of the state, Retz’s The Trial was fairly pointed – but it didn’t succeed in taking me to another world. Perhaps it’s because in a world filled with actors, I screwed things up by not knowing the script. I accept the verdict: guilty as charged.

(This review is for a performance that took place on April 4, 2013. It continues through April 27th. Tickets can be booked through the Barbican web site.)

Review – The Trial (experiential promenade) – RETZ at Shoreditch Town Hall & other locations

March 9, 2013

I was really pleased when I heard that Retz had been recognized for their great work with a fat grant of £30K from Sky Arts; their amazing accomplishment with their six part Tempest was something I wanted to see recognized and rewarded … so I could have more really great theater to go to. The intensity and detail made it clear that it was
My reward for their largesse started last night, with a trip to the first half of their two-part, experiential/promenade The Trial. I’d had a bit of a prequel/preview the week before, at their “portal opening” party in the basement of Shoreditch Town Hall. It was a treasure trove for those who like Jasper Fforde’s Bookworld: a series of display cases each with treasures found while exploring “an alternate world of narrative,” i.e. King Lear’s crown in the Shakespeare section, a ray gun in the Science Fiction , and I swear some kind of relic from the world of the Existentialists (perhaps a vial full of gloom). After wandering around for a bit, Felix and then Yuri the Bordurian guard came up to address us and point out the portal (to the world of fiction) in the back of the room, and to announce that they were pioneering travel to this great land! I was pretty excited as for me this was The Eyre Affair come to life. But suddenly … a man came dashing through the door, from the other side! He ran up to the microphone and made an impassioned speech about how he wasn’t a fictional character, he was a real person like you or me, not some thing in the cinema or a promenade art performance … he was real! Yes, it was Josef K of Kafka’s seminal work The Trial, making a run for freedom, and I was there to see it. He dashed into the heaving mass of partygoers (followed by several security guards) and that was the last I saw of him … until yesterday.

I returned to a much changed Shoreditch town hall (now the Bureau for Information Security or something like that), and was checked in for my … was it a pre-trial hearing? I wasn’t sure. But I took a “wrong turn” (you know that you are set up to go this way) and wound up somewhere I wasn’t supposed to be … and then I began to live Josef K’s nightmare. Caught up in a security sweep, hustled off by a rent-a-thug … in some ways it felt like the way I, as an immigrant, have always expected to be treated. Silent rooms, unhelpful lawyers, whispered secrets about the particular wordings you might be able to use to convince the implacable authorities to finally apply “the law” in a way that worked in your favor … I was swept from one location to another, told tall tales, and finally met Josef K … neither of us able to control our fates. A surprised teenager on a phone peered at me from their car as I was hustled by, local guys fresh from prayer watched us bemusedly, but as always, no one dared to interfere, or even speak. To not see is to protect yourself, and I had suddenly become one of the invisible.

My next trial is set for early April. I will report back … if I survive. (LATER: here is the review of the second half.)

(This review is for a performance that took place on Friday, March 8th, 2013. The similarity of this experience and that of trying to get UKBA to look favorably on my various applications for permission to work and reside in this country are not to be overlooked, nor the fact that I am about to throw myself upon them for the final mercy or killing in the next seven days. Wear clothing suitable for walking, bring an umbrella and a cell phone, and do yourself a favor and bring enough money for a pint at the Howl at the Moon Pub, as you will find yourself nearby and my their cider is tasty.)