Taking on Kafka is always a challenge, so anyone attempting that feat always deserves admiration. Taking on the work he never truly completed is even more of a feat, but one that Old Dog Theatre do with enough imagination that, in general, is enough to suggest that it isn’t a lost cause to be so ambitious.
That imagination is prominent from the opening scene. The majority of the cast take up duties as puppeteers, walking the central character, K, through the storm towards his destination, the village surrounding the Castle. The puppet of K walks along cases, wind and snow blowing in his face, as he seeks refuge. And as the puppet walks and struggles to find his way, so does performer Sam Hill, tasked with the physical incarnation of K. Hill is inside a wooden frame, copying the actions of the puppet version of his character. It’s a visual delight and one that demonstrates the talent on offer in both performers and the creative team behind this production. In a way, this marvellous opening scene is too strong, as the play that follows struggles to meet the sheer delightfulness of that opening.
The Castle, much like all Kafka’s work, can mess with anyone’s mind. K has been summoned to the castle to carry out surveying work, and yet is not allowed to meet the people who have sent for him. The village in which he finds himself is a cauldron of mistrust, conspiracy and bureaucracy. It’s a complex piece of writing which, when condensed into an hour, means scenes are rushed and risk confusion of who is who at any one moment. But the cast do their utmost, exaggerated characteristics helping to define which character a member is playing at any time. Central to all this, Sam Hill is a pleasing constant as he portrays the same confusions as to why he has been summoned and who he is actually answerable to.
But it’s the visual effects on offer that makes this piece so enjoyable. As well as that opening scene, the use of the wooden frame, wheeled around to represent doorways or even barriers, the cast moving through it to give a feeling of space even in the small confines of the venue, shows that director Trevor White and movement director Ruth Phillips have given serious consideration on how best to present this play.
Kudos has to go to this young group for the braveness of tackling such a piece of writing. It’s clear they have an eye for the visual, and with time and further development, its more than possible that the other elements of the show could match the promise of those visuals.
Written by: Franz Kafka
Directed by: Trevor White
Movement Direction & Choreography by: Ruth Phillips
Produced by: Old Dog Theatre
Playing until: This play has completed its current run.