The Trial: It could have been better, but was still indubitably Kafka

I WAS PROBABLY the wrong person to review this. Put quite simply, I don’t really like opera. I love Franz Kafka, I love Phillip Glass, but I just can’t connect to opera; especially in English. I know, I sound like a philistine, but when I hear Carmen in its original language there is a musicality to it that was sorely lacking in this production of The Trial. The trouble was that an attempt to make it both operatic and to be faithful to the English translation of the text lead to certain lines seeming forced into the rhythms of the music.

the trial bigThe music itself was an odd combination – if you took the instrumentals separately from the vocals, it would be spectacular. Glass perfectly captures the intimate, claustrophobic quality of Kafka’s writing and the 12 piece orchestra led by Michael Rafferty were note for note, beat for beat incredible. Special props to the percussionist for always maintaining a sense of movement for the actors, but never overwhelming the rest of the orchestra. The vocal melodies seem to have been written, if this makes any sense, in too operatic a style. I’m not sure if it was intended to be mildly parodic of the over-enunciated stereotypical opera-style but it just didn’t work for me, especially considering some great physical performances by the cast of eight. There were some better than others; many of the bit players had difficulty differentiating the multiple characters they were playing, but luckily Josef K was an intriguing enough central figure holding down all his scenes with just the right amount of manic energy.

The staging itself was very well designed; everything seemed well positioned, and oddly clinical. The choice to have everything in natural wood colours lent the performance a disturbing, artificial, toy-box like quality. The lighting was nicely positioned but seemed too natural, where the rest of the production lent itself towards a heightened reality; the lighting never quite complimented this.

It’s weird that, despite everything preceding this, I did enjoy it. I can’t explain it – I think it might just be the Kafka effect that even a disappointing adaptation is still Kafka. Either way, I applaud the Arts Centre for continuing to champion interesting productions as well as crowd-pleasers. For all its faults, the production was never dull and it was underneath it all, an admirably faithful adaptation of a classic story. It could have been better, it could have been worse. That’s just about it.