After its 2014 release in London, The Trial, based on the iconic Franz Kafka book and composed by Phillip Glass finally had its Scottish premiere. The Scottish Opera shows Joseph K’s abrupt arrest in his bedroom and his subsequent struggle to ascertain his own position in Courts, which lewdly evades consistent meaning or sense. This two and a half hour long opera seemed much shorter, a disjoined and absurd series of songs and actions that played with songs, shadows and your own mind against a stark, simple background that makes you feel miles away from the gorgeous, lavish Kings Theatre.
The champagne sipping opera-goers could not have contrasted more with the ingenious set design: a simple set of three white walls confining the stage with high ceilings and disorienting asymmetries with simple, thin grey set pieces (a bed, some chairs, a table) which were stacked and lit in various formations, produced ominous shadows. Though the opera was modern and the music more subtle, the theatricality and drama still came out in abundance with this simple design that perfectly encapsulated the bizarre struggle of the protagonist.
While Nicholas Lester did a wonderful job as Joseph K, earning audience sympathy for his character’s plight, the real star was Hazel McBain whose vivid, animated and versatile performance engaged the audience even when she was only playing a minor role on stage, watching the action from a high window, engrossed and detached.
Each of the performers played a number of roles and took part in the constant, eager surveillance, adding to the absurd black comedy. They leaned in towards intimate moments, acted as vultures when things got interesting, coming and going through the story when they were not playing a more concrete role on stage.
Some of the smaller characters were the most intriguing. Daniel Norman and Paul Carey Jones played the guards who arrested Joseph, perfectly executing hilarious phrases such as “its true, I was tempted by your underwear.” Their antics and reactions dominated the more humorous moments that make this dystopian tale stand out from its genre.
McBain played Leni, differentiating her role as the maid of Joseph’s lawyer from her other roles through an impressive limp. Her ability to naturalize the absurd and confidently sing her, sometimes disjoined, verses made Joseph’s degeneration of more persuasive. Furthermore, her presence in the scene left the audience hoping her character would respond or interject in order to catch more of her beautiful voice.
If the development of the music seemed repetitive or too subtle, these fears were entirely quashed in the second half when the tension progresses somewhat. The blending of the story and music, seamlessly achieved by Derek Clark, is a gradual one that adds to the development of the tale.