Review: Franz Kafka – What a trial

Franz Kafka, The Trial
Adapted by Dean Parker
Winning Production
NZI Foyer, Aotea Centre, The Edge
Until November 28th
Franz Kafka is not a name one associates with great comedy but you could be mistaken about his career path if you only went to see Winning Productions adaptation of his book, The Trial.
Kafka is the archetypical nihilist writer. There are no uplifting conclusions to his work, only despair and angst. The world in which he records the predicament of modern man is incomprehensible.
The great moral and spiritual tradition built up over centuries faces a bewildering blankness in his work and his heroes are defeated at every turn.
The book and the various versions of his work such as Orson Welles' film are bleak metaphors about the governments, bureaucracy and our own willingness to conform. 
Dean Parker's adaptation of the work retains much of these elements but he has turned the work into a cross between a children’s tale, a comic book and a vaudeville show, giving it a lightness of touch which reveals as much about the characters as the original.
This is one of the best shows of the year, stunning in its acting, staging and music – a thoroughly entertaining and enthralling performance
The story pretty much follows the book which is about Joseph K., a junior bank manager who is arrested by two unidentified agents for an unspecified crime.
He goes to visit the magistrate, but instead is forced to have a meeting with an attendant's wife. Looking at his files he discovers a cache of pornography.
At one point he discovers the two agents who arrested him being given electric shocks for asking him for bribes.
He is introduced to various people including lawyers who offer to help him but nothing seems to happen.
He visits Titorelli, a painter, who seems to have a deep understanding of the process. He sets out what K's options are, but the consequences of all of them are unpleasant and offer no hope.
In one of his visits to his advocate he encounters Block, another client who has been virtually enslaved by his dependence on the advocate's unpredictable advice.
He meets a priest who works for the court, and tells K a fable that is meant to explain his situation, but instead causes confusion, and implies that K's fate is hopeless.
Finally the first two men arrive and lead him to a wrecked car where they shoot him.
The play uses the large function area in the basement of the Aotea Centre, a huge space of around half an acre. Throughout the space are various stages, areas cordoned of with chain mail fences and projection screens.
The audience is controlled from the start of the show being ushered en masse to their seats for the first act and then moved to half a dozen locations by the cast including a spell in one of the service corridors, which doubles as a hospital waiting room.
Like the Joseph K we put up no resistance and do what we are told and go where we are told to go. This audience participation gives the production provides us with both a sense of involvement as well as one of increasing alienation from the characters.
Karlos Drinkwater as Joseph K, the ordinary man gives a well judged performance. His character inhabits the surreal world effectively retaining a rational approach to all the situations. He never resorts to a melodramatic approach and only allows the character to behave unexpectedly when he encounters the women in his life.
Cameron Rhodes who takes on several roles, all figures of power, gives an outstanding performance especially in the scenes where he resorts to burlesque which highlights the absurdity of the situations.
The diminutive Isaac Smith in his couple of roles is able to effectively combine a comic and threatening demeanor which is unsettling.
Warwick Donald Gerard Crewdson and Jeff Henderson give equally perceptive performances.
K’s depressing world is relieved only by his relationships with women; his landlady, his aunt (Jo Smith) and two sexual encounters with Frau Burstner and Leni (Liesha Ward Knox) both of whom play out their roles with an enigmatic distance.
The design, which includes back projection, closed circuit TV, filmed sequences, elaborate stages and a complete car wreck is impressive.
The performance is also an amazing piece of musical theatre with music provided by four of the cast including the composer Jeff Henderson. The bass, horns, tuba, clarinets and drums are not just a musical accompaniment; they provide a soundscape which is integral to the work providing comment, structure and emotion to the play.

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