Dragged to Hoxton Square by a security officer – passers-by looking abashed – I was told that I was in some serious trouble. Thankfully Officer Landz did not mention anything about my overdue council tax bill and instead alluded to a mysterious crime I would have to answer for. This exchange came early on as I left Hoxton Town Hall and sets the tone for RETZ’s The Trial, a tense promenade piece in East London loosely based on Kafka’s story of legal quagmire and the search for justice.
The first half of the piece is a one-on-one experience as you are brought through to various actors who illuminate more about the nature of this crime and how a defence will be mounted. It’s an eerily claustrophobic effort with various unsavoury and unsettling characters: a bored lawyer and his alluring assistant, a wise old guide and some dangerous bouncers make up a large cast all determined to harry the audience member along while slowly illuminating the tale. The audience constantly tries to anticipate the next move but the pace is such that not much time is given over to absent contemplation. You are guilty and you had better start dealing with it.
Instead of fighting the legal system of Kafka’s time (there was not a hint of a faked accent or pretence that the play was set in Soviet Russia), the audience struggles against accusations based on their digital footprints and cyber surveillance in London. It is a frightening proposal and one very much brought home by the cast in the second half of the performance. Here, the trial itself takes place and government ministers and agents move the audience closer to their doom, even offering a painfully paltry final meal. They clearly believe that our wanton use of Facebook is reckless and that our fate is therefore entirely predictable.
It is easy to tire of walking around east London on such a bitter evening but the sets themselves are worth it. Each small room is meticulously crafted and I felt daring enough to inquire as to some of the pictures and files I found strewn around. The cast’s witty responses underlines the level of polish on the production. The final scene (right after the wonderfully terrifying and brilliantly delivered trial) is somewhat of a let-down and without wishing to spoil anything, the cast’s efforts to maintain a sense of unease went too far and simply petered out.
Despite this, as I walked back to the overground station I kept looking over my shoulder, anxious to see anyone who may be an agent or any security equipment that would register my movement. RETZ’s creation of a near-constant high level of anxiety in surveillance heavy London is a masterstroke and would surely pass muster with Kafka himself.