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The Trial

Music by Philip Glass

Music Theatre Wales

RNCM Theatre, 22 October 2014

The Trial

As an opera, The Trial is virtually error-free.

What strikes you at first is the set: clean and clear, well-lit, almost but not quite monochrome.  And the costumes – black suits and white shirts, for the most part – share the same aesthetic: a spare use of colour, Middle-European minimalist.  Once the action gets underway, the lighting plays with chiaroscuro effects.

Philip Glass’ score serves the story, which for the most part means that it is edgy and anxious.  At the end, mind, as Josef K is slowly led out by his executioners, it became quite (well, relatively) jaunty.  Perhaps it’s too simple, but the temptation is to read this scene as a homage to Mack the Knife.  The closest we came to a conventional aria was when we got the parable (with Kafka you naturally reach for this word) of the man who comes from the country (you imagine a shetl or a Moldovan village) to stand before the gate of the Law.  Yet even then the music doesn’t meander into melody.  It served the drama of the story always.

Underlying Christopher Hampton’s faithful and unfussy libretto is the notion that while Kafka may once have been a prophet, now he is a realist (of course, Lukacs grasped this a while ago).  There is paranoia, bawdy and brutality here but that makes it a world we can all recognise.

Thus far in to the review and I’ve neglected to mention any of the performers, not even Johnny Herford, who played our put-upon hero.  My reason: they were all so convincing.  Really, it was the world of The Trial, the result of a happy confluence of many talents, that was the star here.  You were immersed in it.  This was an opera tried, tested and true.

Music Theatre Wales’ robust production of The Trial is currently touring the UK.  Further details are here.