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The Trial

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‘The Trial’ was performed by Splendid Theatre Company on Friday 19th November 2010. It is a dark novel written by Franz Kafka. ‘Splendid’ adapted it into a play with a cast of three (one male and two females). They took inspiration from the style of Bertolt Brecht, and used this to create a distancing effect, which is known as Verfremdungseffect. This had an effect of making the audience look at the events in the play from an outsiders point of view, as opposed to them feeling emotionally engaged, which helps to convey the political message of the play.

One method used to distance the audience was to remind them that they are watching a play and it isn’t real, which was achieved by involving them in it with audience interaction; destroying the fourth wall. This helped to not only get the political message across, but to also put the audience in the tense and unknowing state that the main character Josef K was in. The first moment where I felt that the audience interaction was particularly effective was as soon as we entered the hall where the actors were performing. The actor Ben Hales was stood at a podium DSL holding a clipboard.

He spoke softly and in a monotone voice with no emotion as he called out names from his clipboard. He read out the names of members of the audience, repeating their names five times, which immediately made me feel tense as I wondered why they had our names and if he would call out mine, so I felt I couldn’t relax. I believe that their aim was to make to audience feel uncomfortable, as they were uninformed about what they were doing and why. This was reinforced by the screens at the back of the stage. Messages were projected on to it, such as, ‘We know everything!

You know nothing. ‘ By involving the audience with not knowing what is wanted from them, they successfully make the audience consider Josef K’s position; therefore the political message of complete trust in the government too, as well as distancing us so we can make alert, considered judgements. The anticipation was maintained throughout the play as I was given a lanyard with the word ‘official’ on it by Kerry. She did not explain why, so I was tense throughout the play as the audience interaction throughout made me wonder if they were going to involve me with the lanyard.

This was reinforced when Josef K (played by Rosie) noticed the audience when in court. She then began to shout at us, telling us, ‘You’re one of them. ‘ As I had the official badge, this made me feel nervous as she shouted and pointed at us, with her face screwed up in despair and her fists balled in anger with tense shoulders. Even though I was not spoken to directly, the use of the lanyards at the beginning of the play meant that I felt on edge throughout which effectively highlighted what Josef K was feeling to me.

Rather than witnessing his emotions and feeling engaged in that way, I felt the emotions from an audience member’s point of view, which meant I could then think about Josef K’s treatment, after experiencing it for myself in a play. The second moment I felt was particularly successful was the scene where they requested an audience member to get up on to the stage and ‘whip’ a character (Block) with a red rope they had used to section off the acting area. They gave him the red rope then help up cue cards for the audience, instructing us to shout ‘whip’ and clap our hands, chanting.

When he ‘whipped’ Block, the actors on stage all froze and stared at him with their mouths wide open. Their eyes were wide and their eyebrows creased in disbelief. They had their fingers splayed and their arms extended outwards slightly at hip level. They held this expression for thirty seconds. This audience interaction made him feel guilty as he thought he had done something wrong and this effectively made the audience consider Josef K’s position objectively, as the fourth wall has been broken, we were not emotionally engaged; therefore not influenced by these emotions.

The use of the cue cards also made me consider how we had encouraged an action that received the character’s reactions. This made the audience realise how people can encourage injustice, by making us do it for ourselves and making the point with their reactions to our interactions. They successfully improvised this, as they could not have predicted his reaction, which again destroyed any naturalistic illusion and kept us distanced, achieving ‘verfremdung’. I feel that the actors were particularly good at using audience interaction as they skilfully improvised to suit people’s reactions, as every audience is different.

Such as with the ‘whipping’ participation, they adapted their response to fit in. This was what made it so effective, as he appeared uncertain, they made him feel worse when they reacted like that, opposed to him being confident, when their reaction would be different. Without this improvisation skill, I do not feel that the audience interaction would have been as effective at conveying the political message and making the audience feel apprehension similar to Josef K’s, which was their desired response.

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