The Trial

Aotea Centre at THE EDGE®, Auckland

13/11/2008 - 29/11/2008

Production Details


Paranoia, administration, totalitarianism – ideals that could be viewed as prophetic? Franz Kafka’s classic novel The Trial not only looks to engage and alert audiences but to immerse them in the world Josef K finds himself in, as Dean Parker’s revision brings promenade theatre underground at the Aotea Centre, THE EDGE® from November 13 -29.

Bank clerk Josef K awakes on the morning of his thirtieth birthday to find he is being arrested, though he doesn’t know what crime he’s committed. K must content with a mysterious justice system manned by corrupt magistrates and where sexual scandal is rife. Even K’s friends doubt his innocence – or worse, tell him he’s a lost cause. He can trust no one.  

Parker’s new adaptation of this classic tale of modern bureaucracy takes the Omni-presence of camera surveillance in our own culture as the starting point for a 21st century look at our own sense of control in a post-911 paranoid world. The specific crime of Joseph K is overshadowed by the certainty of the system which assumes to hold information from him. Like the Tuhoe arrests in 2007, the nature of our freedom is relative to our perceived threat to those that hold the power. Arrest without immediate charge is today accepted for anti-terrorist control.

Rather than the regular theatre going affair, the performance harks on the promenade theories of experimental theatre – in this instance, the show takes place in the lower divisions of the Aotea Centre. Through its almost secretive catacombs of conference rooms and exits unfamiliar to even the most ardent patron, The Trial combines music, differentiating theatrical spaces, stimulating the audience to move around the nerve centre of Auckland’s bureaucratic HQ.

Adapted by award-winning writer Dean Parker (Came a Hot Friday) and directed by Stephen Bain (Stories Told to Me by Girls, The Arsehole, Die Henkel Spur), the twosome have attracted an eclectic group of exciting performers; Gareth Reeves (A Song Of Good, Dead Letters and The Insiders Guide To Love, which garnered him the “Best Actor” award the NZ Screen Awards); Jo Smith (Stories Told to Me by Girls); Liesha Ward Knox (Design For Living, My Name is Gary Cooper).

Complementing the eclectic cast is the equally diverse Wellington ‘architectural sound energy healers’ Fertility Festival ( led by free-improvisation maestro and founder of the city’s HAPPY Bar Jeff Henderson and featuring Isaac Smith (The Dentist Chair, Die Henkel Spur), Warwick Donald (Die Henkel Spur) and Gerard Crewdson (Die Henkel Spur), who painted the publicity image and whose art has been shown extensively in Sydney and Wellington.

Together with video artist Kim Newal (Urban Life exhibit Living Room), set designer Andrew Foster (Clockwork Orange, Vertigo), who recently has returned from London, and Director Stephen Bain (Winning Productions), Kafka’s The Trial will create a multi-screen event that will take the audience on an extraordinary journey through the bowels of THE EDGE®

13 – 29 November, 8PM at Lower NZI Aotea Centre, THE EDGE®
Bookings through THE EDGE ticketing on 09 357 3355 or
Tickets: $20 – $28 *Service fees will apply  

Karlos Drinkwater
Jo Smith
Liesha Ward-Knox
Cameron Rhodes

Jeff Henderson, Isaac Smith, Gerard Crewdson, Warwick Donald.

video artist: Kim Newal
set designer: Andrew Foster

2 hrs (approx), incl. interval

Play guilty of not living up to its promise – but with a few extenuating circumstances

Review by Shannon Huse 18th Nov 2008

The Lower NZI Room of the Aotea Centre is an unexpected location for a grungy and artistic interpretation of Kafka’s paranoid novel The Trial.

But its corporate blandness is successfully obliterated by an inventive Kiwi theatre company which takes the audience on an unsettling journey through a surreal landscape of power gone mad. [More]


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Dynamically soul crushing inevitability

Review by Nik Smythe 15th Nov 2008

[Revised 15/11, 1:30pm]
Having our bags searched by the politely officious guard when entering the bar area doesn’t even seem that oppressive or unusual in this day and age.  A live jazz quartet keeps the energy high as the audience mingles well past the advertised 8 o’clock start time, in keeping with opening night tradition.  The atmosphere is friendly but eerie as we enter the initial auditorium.

As advised in the promotional guff, the audience is periodically shifted to another area in the expansive conference venue, although not directly challenged or interacted with to any significant degree beyond being told when to move, and occasionally addressed as a wider audience, sort of background extras if you like.

Karlos Drinkwater is solidly square in the protagonist role of Josef K, a successful banker who wakes up one morning to discover he is under arrest.  No-one can tell him what he’s been arrested for, and he isn’t detained as such.  Rather he is able to go about his normal daily business, at least to begin with…

Directed by Stephen Bain, the rest of the cast cover multiple roles, including the musicians who play a significant number of key characters.  Gerald Crewdson is particularly impressive as the creepy Herr Huld, the lawyer whom Josef hires to defend him in his mysterious case.  Musical Director Jeff Henderson as the hapless gimp Block is also something of a cult favourite.

The musos also augment the darkly humorous events of the play with a brilliantly twisted live score including various kinds of drum, brass horns, guitar, a melodica and clarinets.  The only sound I can think of more unsettling than an avant garde clarinet is several at once.

The female roles, as depicted by Jo Smith and Liesha Ward Knox, are a fairly slutty bunch for the most part, also generally neurotic, desperate and conniving.  Even Leni, Knox’s wanton nurse to the ailing Herr Huld, whose manner is assertive and challenging, ultimately achieves little more than performing a prescribed function for her passive-aggressive employer. 

Not to say the male characters have any kind of higher moral ground whatsoever; the opposite if anything. Even our ‘innocent’ hero, the distinguished Josef K, falls prey to the base urges of our primal being, easily swayed by the strategically positioned temptresses along his confusing way. And, not too surprisingly, it would appear the higher up the ladder you go the deeper the corruption runs.

This is evident in the exemplary performance of Cameron Rhodes, who delivers his variant authoritarian roles with veteran skill. Being the story it is, these parts are generally obnoxious, menacing, creepy and sadistic. Kafka’s pessimistic vision of authority and the law goes beyond 1984, into a realm of absurdity that suggests this is more about a man’s guilt-based delusional paranoia than a statement about society and bureaucracy.

The dull grey carpeting of the venue has done half the work for production designer Andrew Foster, who effectively utilises iconic, unaesthetic structural materials such as many chains of wire fencing to evoke a despondent, soulless battery farm of society. 

The outstanding video design of Kim Newall includes striking live closed-circuit TV displays which both visually impress and give an Orwellian sense of widespread surveillance.

In the second half the audience is moved about less, but this almost makes it more grueling with the mounting anguish and frustrations not being refreshed or dissipated by the act of relocation.  The final scene in the car is climactically bleak and so sparse that in a way it seems underworked, although I can’t suggest anything to add to it. 

The soul crushing inevitability would appear to be the story’s ultimate message, to leave us wishing there was more, anything that could be done to rout the unwelcome controlling forces, despite the emphatic evidence that there is not.  Actually the most disturbing moment for me was a few moments after the lights fade at the end, when the audience, hesitantly only at first, starts to applaud.


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