WORLDS OUT OF KILTER DARKLY AMUSING
Written by Tom Basden
Directed by Uther Dean
Presented by My Accomplice
at BATS Theatre (Out Of Site), Cnr Cuba & Dixon, Wellington
From 4 Sep 2013 to 14 Sep 2013
[1 hr 30 mins, no interval]
Reviewed by Laurie Atkinson, 9 Sep 2013
originally published in The Dominion Post
I haven't read Kafka's The Trial on which Tom Basden's play, Joseph K, is loosely based. And like a lot of non-readers of the famous novel, as Alan Bennett points out in Writing Home, I have got it all wrong. It isn't humourless and it doesn't take place in vast, soulless government offices.
Bennett says the topography of the novel is constructed out of burrows and garrets and cubby holes in Prague. However, at Bats Meg Rollandi's clever London setting is a cramped two level structure with four rooms separated by venetian blinds for doors that can be opened and closed quickly which allows director Uther Dean to keep the action flowing smoothly.
The lack of height above the stage at Bats is turned into an asset. An attic-like room, in which the actors can never stand fully upright, underlines the absurdity of Joseph's situation as well as the feeling of a world out of kilter. And it is our contemporary world that is out of kilter, not Kafka's.
Joseph, a London banker, learns on his thirtieth birthday of his arrest when he is having a shower and is expecting his sushi to be delivered. He can't be told why he is under arrest by two men who aren't policemen (they're “volunteers”) but they make him sign a form to say he is under arrest but then they let him stay at home ostensibly a free man.
But his cell phone doesn't work, his points on his Boots card disappear, his passport is rejected and two incompetent employees at the customers' complaints bureau can only lodge his complaints about the procedure, not about his arrest or why he was arrested.
The verbal and physical comedy for most of the play's 95 running time is darkly amusing but as the play progresses and Joseph's predicament deepens into a bureaucratic quagmire the play seems to stall despite the best efforts of its excellent cast of Paul Waggott as Joseph and Ralph McCubbin Howell, Erin Banks and Sam Hallahan who play numerous roles including Joseph's brother, a lawyer who collects dolls, a sex-starved intern and a bank executive.
Nevertheless, recent events in Britain, the United States and here make Joseph K a timely reminder of the dangers that surround us all.
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