STEVEN BERKOFF BUY

 

The Trial

Franz Kafka was posthumously recognised as one of the most important figures in twentieth century literature. His novel The Trial operates on many levels, one of which, having been written in 1917, prophesied the Holocaust. It was dramatised for the stage and screen using this approach by Andre Gide and Jean-Louis Barrault in 1947 and Orson Welles in 1963. In 1973 Steven Berkoff created his own groundbreaking adaptation as part of his Kafka trilogy, which also comprised In The Penal Colony (1968) and Metamorphosis (1969). He moved away from the political arena and returned to Kafka's main concern: the inner life of the individual.

Kafka, perhaps more than any other modern writer or artist, articulated the experience of what it is to be human in this spiritually and psychologically fragmented age, an experience we now frequently refer to as 'Kafkaesque'.

The greatest strength of Berkoff's Trial dramatisation is his radical theatrical style, his mise-en-scene. The key metaphor in the novel, and one that Berkoff exploits brilliantly on stage, is the labyrinth. The continually shifting and ambiguous environment that becomes Joseph K.'s nightmare and mental prison is recreated on stage by the choreography of the other characters, each of whom carries a structure resembling a simple rectangular door frame throughout the play. These frames are moved with speed and precision to create rooms, corridors, a cathedral, a law court, and so on. Rooms can thus contract around the hero, and labyrinthine passageways can swirl and dissolve, reflecting not architectural realism but Joseph K.'s states of mind. Stage properties and scenery in The Trial, as in all Berkoff's dramas, are created entirely by the actors using mime. In an early scene in which the guards search Joseph K.'s apartment, for example, the supporting actors 'become' pieces of furniture, able to articulate the sense of violation that he feels. When K. himself is forced to bend over double to become the ' table on which the guards eat - Joseph K.'s - breakfast, the power relationship between the characters is made manifest. Berkoff's dramaturgy represents the triumph of symbolism over realism.

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