5-31 August, 23.20
“A daringly elusive, ground-breaking production”. “Avant-garde theatre at its very best. Disorientation and uncertainty envelop audience and protagonist alike”.
The chances are if you look anywhere else on the Internet for Belt Up’s production of The Trial, this is the kind of laudatory (and horribly misjudged) critical guff that you will encounter.
Staged in the dingy, fire-ravaged venue of C Soco, The Trial follows the story of Joseph K, an innocent bank clerk, accused of an unknown crime by undisclosed authorities. An actor dressed in a black leotard, face painted ghostly white, blindfolds me on entering, and ushers me in to my standing position for the start of the play. Unseen figures brush past me in the darkness whispering incomprehensibly to themseves, stopping occasionally to breathe on my neck, or blow into my ear.
This opening exercise is intended to create an atmosphere of confusion and other-worldliness, so that the audience can also share in the illogical and absurd world in which Joseph finds himself.
Unfortunately, the scenes that follow expose this beginning as gimmick rather than effective dramatic invention. The theatrical illusion is continuously undermined by feeble acting, through which shouting seems to be the only way to convey intense emotion, and by the impracticality of making the audience constantly move around to follow the action. One transition actually required the audience to conga their way to the next scene.
I have no doubt that staging Kafka is a near-impossible task, but this theatre group shows no signs of bucking the trend. Hammy dialogue is interspersed with some pointless mime, and the story of Jospeh K is so opaque as to be almost impossible to follow.
Breaking down on the Underground would probably provoke the same level of disorientation and existential thought as this play. And it would be a lot less pretentious.