Above: Tim Kemp and Danen Young. Below: Michael Brindley and Georgia Brindley. Photos by Clare Hawley
By Tom Basden
Directed by Sean O’Riordan
A Secret House Production
Limelight on Oxford
231 Oxford Street
Season: 1 – 18 May 2019. Bookings: www.limelightonoxford.com.au
Present day London is the setting for Tom Basden’s Joseph K, an adaptation of the novel The Trial by Franz Kafka.
Joseph K (Danen Young) is an ambitious bank employee and is looking forward to some relaxation at home for his 30th birthday. His order of home delivered sushi arrives from a strange man named Gabriel (Michael Brindley) who is acting nervously and whose red pen has stained his shirt pocket. In addition, someone has taken a big bite out of one of his sushi roles – an act of gastronomic sabotage that none of us would stomach.
The culprit is Natalie (Georgia Brindley), Gabriel’s offsider. They explain to Joseph that he is under arrest, but the charge and agency they are from is not revealed. Initially angered, Joseph suspects this is a prank set up by his sister Alison (Elouise Eftos). He plays along with the supposed ‘arrest’ and unwittingly agrees to sign an acknowledgement form. He also calls the pair “you sushi people”, a racial slur on the Japanese which will be later used against him.
At work, Joseph’s life starts to mysteriously unravel rapidly. With a business trip to New York approaching, he finds that his passport has been cancelled and his phone tampered with. To make matters worse, all his reward points with a department store have vanished. I am with Joseph on this one as I remember the half a million points lost when Ansett went belly up.
A rival co-worker, Wendy (Deborah Faye Lee), pounces on Joseph’s troubles and snatches a promotion he was hoping to get.
Frustrated at his inability to understand why he is targeted and the lack of recourse, he continually postpones a work appraisal for Morton (Matt Bartlett). This exacerbates his downfall as he takes his eye off work-related matters.
The story continues and we see Joseph K’s fall from grace. His sister Alison tries to get him legal help from a solicitor friend Ian (Tim Kemp), but he is interested in bizarre voyeuristic pursuits and keeps his clients on the hook, prolonging their cases indefinitely. Even the peculiar administrators of the ‘court’ Dan (James Smithers) and Rose (Phoebe Heath) can’t give him straight answers.
As Joseph bemoans his plight, Rose answers “If it’s a mistake, it should go away”, typifying the whole bureaucratic hand-washing which occurs when citizens question their loss of liberty.
Tom Basden manages to identify everyday frustrations in his play. For example, why is Joseph’s Oyster Card charged even when the Underground line he wanted to use is closed. Or, the online lawyer Joseph uses is on a default loop which can’t progress his enquiry beyond initial logon. And the only legal matters it handles are “Murder’, ‘Rape’, ‘Fraud’, ‘Parking’ or ‘Other’.
Joseph K is a cleverly scripted comment on the inescapable drama innocent people can face when government agencies, backed by rigid technologies and robotic staff, entangle themselves in their lives. The message is: there is no escape, so don’t come under their radar.
The cast of 10 actors are ably directed by Sean O’Riordan. Some have multiple characters. Set changes were brisk and there was a sense of strong camaraderie amongst the ensemble. Effective lighting and sound effects added to the unorthodox nature of the production. The set design was suitably modern and contemporary.
The story of Joseph K is more real than we might think. It’s a warning of where unfettered control of bureaucracies may take us. One other lesson: always check your sushi for bites if getting home delivered. If you are in any way paranoid about the overreaching power of government agencies and the assault on personal liberties, this is a play for you!