Can a show convince you that you’re going to die within the next half hour or so? Of course it bleeding can’t. It seems an utterly bonkers position in which to put a theatre-goer. The brain just doesn’t bend that way. Yet much of Retz’ immersive take on Kafka’s The Trial hinges on us believing in our imminent death. We don’t.
It’s deeply frustrating because this company clearly knows a thing or two about immersive theatre. Some moments wrap right around one and there’s a cleverly choreographed vagueness to this promenade piece that is classic Kafka. Having been ejected from Shoreditch Town Hall, we’re spat out onto the street and accosted by an officer. He seems to think we’ve done something wrong, although he’s not sure what. It’s bloody exposing, standing in the street, being questioned by a man in uniform as everyone else streams past you. Guilt starts to creep in and it’s surprisingly hard to shake off.
This vague feeling of unease lingers for much of this excellent opening segment. As one walks through the open streets, in search of a distant lawyer, it feels like the world is watching. The best bits in this show are when we’re nudged ever so slightly and then left to our own devices, alone and increasingly paranoid.
But the show grows ever more explicit and much less scary. It starts to feel like we’re being bullied rather than our senses teased. This feeling intensifies in the Part 2, when we are placed on trial. Again, there are a few brilliant moments in here, which plunge us head first, spluttering, into Kafka’s swirling world. As we await our trial, a diaphanous man prepares us for our fate. He doesn’t say anything but his cool, close gaze whispers unspeakable horrors.
But for much of the time, we’re simply badgered and bullied by a number of aggressive types, the threat of execution held – ridiculously – over our heads. It feels silly. It also feels completely out of synch with Kafka’s novel, which doesn’t look death in the eye until the very final moment. The clawing fear in Kafka’s novel isn’t the fear of death – it’s a fear of entrapment, in which all doors lead further inwards and never out. The only thing achieved by this promise of death is the comforting knowledge that the show will soon be over and we will be released - ALIVE OBVIOUSLY – soon enough.