A moving performance (comes with own travelator)

The Trial – Young Vic, until 22 August 2015 (Tickets)

Given the number of perplexed reviews that accompanied Richard Jones’ production of Kafka’s The Trial, it is a surprise that so many critics avoided the obvious puns the title allows (the honourable exception naturally goes to the Daily Mail). This production certainly reinforces the impression that Richard Jones is a director whose work divides critics between those who feel that his directorial hand does not give the text a chance to breathe, and others who find value in the kitsch lunacy that he establishes through his visual style.

It is a style that is so unique as to be instantly recognisable. The importance that visuals play in his work means that credit ought to be shared with his regular collaborators; designer, Miriam Buether, and costumier, Nicky Gillibrand. In both Public Enemy (his reworking of Ibsen’s Enemy of the People) and The Trial, he creates a world that could have come out of a Lynchian vision of a Californian wife-swapping party. The colour palette leans defiantly towards the 1970’s and is almost aggressively lurid. Yet behind the warmth of the orange and peach tones he establishes a clinical coldness that is reminiscent of Kubrick’s best work.

The Kubrick reminder can hardly be avoided as Nick Gill’s translation gives Kinnear’s Josef K an internal monologue written in a form of English that is not so different from Alex in A Clockwork Orange. This is the most problematic aspect of a mostly enjoyable production. Having spent a week reflecting, I am no closer to why the decision was made to give Josef K this curious internalised language. The play appears to suggest The Trial is located in sexual angst (a contentious point in its right) and Josef spend much time recounting the historic fantasies that have turned him into the person he has become. It might make sense that the dialogue was babyish, as it would lean towards giving the play a Freudian spin, but instead it is more of a freeform organic narrative that flexes adult English to its own purposes.

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Democracy under the microscope in Ibsen reworking

Public Enemy – Young Vic Theatrebooking until 08 June

Continuing from where he left off with Gogol’s The Government Inspector, Richard Jones’ production of a Public Enemy at the Young Vic delves deeper into small town communities and how the introduction of an outside force – be it the arrival of a government official or a report of a contaminated water supply – inexorably leads to the exposure of the venality and hypocrisy of those in positions of responsibility, and those who are able to exercise power.

Running at a brisk 100 minutes and dispensing with the interval in order to allow the play to build towards a frenetic and frenzied conclusion, David Harrower’s updated text reworks Ibsen’s Enemy of the People into a 1970’s Public Enemy logosetting. In this he is aided by a superb set design from Miriam Buether and costumes from Nicky Gillibrand that immediately places the location in a Scandinavia of the 1970s.

Updating Enemy of the People has an advantage of other Ibsen plays in that the central plot device feels as relevant today as when it was written. The tainting of the water supply is something that doesn’t seem so unlikely to a society who has seen the Yangtze River turned the colour of blood and minor earthquakes hit Blackpool following adventures in fracking.

Jones’ Public Enemy reminds us once again of Ibsen’s skill of placing characters in the most exquisite of personal dilemmas – forced into positions that expose their venality and corruption to the world. Each passes under the lens of his microscope, and each ultimately fails to take the action that would potentially redeem them.

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