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 The Theatreguide.London Review


Joseph K
Gate Theatre  November-December 2010

Tom Basden has written a darkly comic modern adaptation of Kafka's The Trial, and the result has a lot more laughs than Kafka, though a lot less of what we think of as essentially Kafkaesque.

Not for the purists, then, the play is best enjoyed as an original and independent work borrowing only the basic plot situation from The Trial.

As in Kafka, Joseph K - here a mid-management type in a bank - is visited out of nowhere by two men who announce that he is under arrest for some unnamed crime, though free to carry on with his life as best he can. Unlike in Kafka, the men are bumblers who have eaten part of his delivery sushi and are actually moonlighting from day jobs at the bank.

Joseph then sets off on the triple quest of finding out just what he has been arrested for, establishing a defence against the shadowy charges, and coping with the byproducts of arrest, such as having his phone cut off, his bicycle locked up and all the points disappearing from his Boots bonus card.

This brings him in contact, in what amount to a string of comic sketches, with various sorts of 'It's nothing to do with me, mate' bureaucrats, a thieving and inactive lawyer, an ambitious rival, a love-starved intern and a window installer who claims inside knowledge of court proceedings.

The tone throughout is of comic frustration rather than Kafka's nightmare of hopelessness, which is frequently laugh-out-loud funny, but which makes the sudden return to Kafka's stark ending come out of nowhere and clash with both the tone and the psychology of the characters up to then.

Pip Carter plays Joseph K with the mild annoyance of a reasonable man who can't quite believe how unhelpful everyone else is, and Tom Basden, Sian Brooke and Tim Key play Everyone Else in a string of quick-change comic turns.

Director Lyndsey Turner doesn't quite catch the spinning-out-of-control farcical speed the play feels like it wants, and can't bridge the abrupt gap in tone at the end.

Gerald Berkowitz

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