In performing Kafka’s The Trial, as adapted by Steven Berkoff, Oxford’s Hypnotist Theatre Company took on two masters of theatre. The play in itself deals with issues of identity and illusion, of double meanings and deception and at its heart, dystopia. These themes are perfectly matched to Berkoff’s Brechtian production; the audience’s awareness of the actors as players taking on a different identity reflects the way in which the narrative questions the roles we all take on within society. The dystopian core came to life with the bare, exposed set and monochrome aesthetic, as well as the lighting, which swung from intimate and soft to jarring and harsh. Combined with Berkoff’s iconic physical style, with the actors producing angular, aggressive shapes and sounds, this production really took flight. Each of the actors was impressive, delivering both well-observed character studies and advanced physical theatre performances. It was no surprise to learn that one member of the cast, Sophie Ablett, is going to train at Jacques Lecoq in Paris next year, especially as Berkoff himself underwent the same training and told Performance Reviewed just recently of its influence on his style.
Whilst each performance was accomplished in of itself, the crux of physical theatre is the bodies on stage working as a machine, in some form of unison even if pulling off vastly different physical expressions. At moments, this unison felt missing on stage but when it was there, the piece was striking and high-impact, engaging the audience by pulling us into the dramatic space of the stage. A particular example of this was in a distressing scene between Jy Hoh and Josie Richardson, two exceptional members of the cast. Both actors were fully absorbed into their roles and the result was breathtaking, leaving the room completely silent.
This production confirms Hypnotist Theatre as a company really pushing the boundaries of student theatre and we eagerly await their next show ‘Dealer’s Choice’, opening soon.