It is not the faceless bureaucrats we should be afraid of – it's the smiling customer services operatives in red Converse who call everyone "amigo". So runs Tom Basden's dystopic vision in Joseph K, a zippy update of The Trial to 21st-century London.
Basden, a comedian and writer whose last play, the hilarious political satire Party, transferred from the Edinburgh Fringe to the West End, has invigorated the classic judicial nightmare with broken sat navs, disconnected iPhones, mysteriously missing Boots Advantage card points and a hefty dose of black humour. This is Kafka for the Wikileaks generation, a bleak world where an individual's personal data – or freedom – risks being corrupted, or simply lost in the system.
Joseph K is a suave banker whose cosy existence starts to unravel on his 30th birthday, when his sushi delivery is intercepted by two suited goons with a warrant for his arrest. Before long, his phone is cut off, his passport goes unrecognised and his bathroom taps have swapped round.
Pip Carter, a rising National Theatre star, plays the hero with just the right blend of bullish machismo and exasperation. His various tormentors are played by a versatile cast: the excellently deadpan Tim Key (whose Latin-spouting lawyer is a creepy highlight), Sian Brooke and Basden himself. The trio's fluid swapping of roles becomes ever more dreamlike and disorienting while Chris Branch – who worked with Will Adamsdale on his Kafkaesque masterpiece, The Receipt – provides a pitch-perfect soundtrack of bleeps, back-room floggings and radio phone-ins.
The ending is, naturally, a little imperfect and the episodic narrative and labyrinthine set make Joseph K's spiral into horror more stilted than swift. But this is clever writing from Basden, rapidly making a name for himself as one of British theatre's fastest – and funniest – rising stars.
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