The Trial ... images by Jeff Busby.


The Trial, by Franz Kafka | Adapted by Louise Fox | Directed by Matthew Lutton

Sydney Theatre Company, Malthouse Melbourne & ThinIce | Wharf 1, Walsh Bay, Sydney | Until 16 October

Ever felt like everyone knows what’s going on except you?

Kafka can make you feel like that — as can being in a board meeting, in a courtroom, or a government department.

Josef K is rudely awoken on his 30th birthday by two unknown men arresting him. Josef is on trial — but has no idea what he has done.

Thus begins The Trial, Franz Kafka’s 1925 novel about a man persecuted by authority for a mysterious misdeed.

Louise Fox’s adaptation of Kafka’s novel is largely faithful, and the physical realisation on to stage by Matthew Lutton and his creative team brilliantly recreates the surreal, complex and nightmarish quality of the original.

The spinning stage, frenetic movement and sudden bursts of cacophony build upon one another in disorienting fashion. Kafka’s bizarre logic — and illogic — as Josef desperately attempts to make sense of what is happening to him is reminiscent of anyone’s attempt to unravel a bureaucratic tangle.

Ewen Leslie creates yet another stunning performance as Josef K. Every member of this ensemble has an incredibly physically demanding role, but Leslie barely leaves the space for nearly two hours.

It’s no surprise that by the end he does indeed look like he has been through a trial in every sense of the word.

A particular standout occurs in the final few moments, as the wonderful John Gaden brings the parable Before the Law to life. As he intones the fruitless search for “the law”, the sense of despair is palpable. By the end, one feels that Josef is actually relieved by his inevitable execution. At least the ambiguity is over.

Kafka can be both fascinating and frustrating. In many senses it is just as well to allow the piece to just be, rather than struggle with attempting to understand every nuance.

It is what it is. And in this production, what it is ... is, well, amazing.

Ewen Leslie in The Trial ... image by Jeff Busby.