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Theatre review: Joseph K 
22nd-Nov-2010 10:09 pm
tragicomedavatar
The already pretty short list of London theatres I've never been to gets a little bit shorter as I make my, probably long overdue, first visit to The Gate. Having enjoyed Tom Basden's comedy Party earlier this year I decided to make the trip to Notting Hill for the follow-up, Joseph K. A frantic, comic adaptation of Kafka's The Trial that brings it to present-day London, on his 30th birthday a man is "arrested" for an unspecified offense, leading to his passport becoming invalid, his phone stopping working and (is nothing sacred?) all the Advantage Points being wiped from his Boots card. As the months go by a succession of bureaucrats, thugs and old-boy networks get in the way of him trying to put his life back together. As with Party, Basden himself appears in the play along with Tim Key (which is fine by me; every minute Key's performing in this is a minute he's not doing his "funny" "poetry.")

National Theatre regular Pip Carter plays the title role, with all the other parts doubled by Basden, Key and Siân Brooke. Basden actually uses this doubling to increase the play's sense of paranoia - characters occasionally get mistaken for someone else who was played by the same actor and costume changes are often done in full view of the audience so by the end we, like K, are left wondering if this is indeed the whole world conspiring against him, or just three people taking on a number of disguises. Chloe Lamford's set uses a variety of sliding panels and curtains to take us to the various locations and Lyndsey Turner's production keeps a nice balance between the funny stuff and the disconcerting elements (although it remains funny throughout, the broader comedy comes early on, with things taking a darker tone as the play nears its conclusion.) A wall-mounted radio provides a recurring meme and Charles Balfour's lighting has a subtle way of picking it out at unexpected moments, making it seem like something else we should be suspicious of, maybe something that's listening as well as being listened to.

The cast are good although Key's wide-eyed comic persona doesn't really stretch well to playing multiple roles. Best at differentiating between his characters is Basden himself- he can write and act, if I didn't fancy him I'd have to hate him. If you like your comedy mixed in with a bit of menace this is for you.

Joseph K by Tom Basden, based on The Trial by Franz Kafka, is booking until the 18th of December at the Gate Theatre.
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