Review: The Trial

Scottish Opera
Until January 28th at Theatre Royal
4 Stars (4 / 5)

Despite being based on a novel that was written over a century ago, Scottish Opera’s The Trial directed by Michael McCarthy is just as relevant today. For anyone who is unfamiliar with Kafka’s story, it tells the tale of Josef K (Nicholas Lester), a banker who is unexpectedly arrested on his 30th birthday for reasons unknown. In spite of his attempts to clear his name, he eventually submits to the oppressive judicial system that seems bent on prosecuting him.

There is probably no need to praise librettist Christopher Hampton and composer Philip Glass for their fluid and somewhat unsettling musical and lyrical adaptation. The orchestra led by conductor Derek Clark deserves credit for taking on Glass’ continuously shifting harmonies and qualities to enhance the absurd, scintillating setting. However, the libretto still feels somewhat incomplete, leaving anyone who may be unfamiliar with the story feeling more alienated and confused by the end.

Lester, who is almost never off stage for the entire two hours delivers an energetic performance that continuously fights against the repetitive and heavy atmosphere. Supporting him is a strong ensemble who are just as clear in communicating with their bodies as with their voices. In particular, Paul Carey Jones and Daniel Norman, as the guards Willem and Franz respectively, effortlessly synthesise musical rhythm and comic timing.

Simon Banham in his Scottish Opera debut as a designer has succinctly captured the flavours of the story and music with his monochrome aesthetic, and the staging of the piece makes full use of every shape and prop on stage to much detail and significance.

The Trial defies the traditions of western opera while remaining true to the form, and is a fine example of how contemporary music and design have possibly found a place in this mode of storytelling.