Philip Glass' The Trial, Linbury Theatre, review: Kafka's story has an astonishing prescience

Philip Glass has turned the novel into a remarkably faithful opera

Half a century ago, Kafka’s The Trial (written around 1920) still read like a brilliant, if paranoid, fantasy. Re-read it now, in the age of extraordinary rendition and mass surveillance, and what will strike you is its astonishing prescience, both in subject matter and form.

And who better than Philip Glass, whose music mirrors the taking-a-line-for-a-walk intricacy of Kafka’s prose, to turn it into an opera? With a libretto by Christopher Hampton which stays remarkably faithful to the original text, this new work  - in a co-production led by Music Theatre Wales, who are now touring it – has sprung perfectly-formed into life. Under Michael McCarthy’s direction the performers become George Grosz caricatures as they pop out of the hidden windows and doors of Simon Banham’s austere set.

Glass’s trademark blocks of repetition - now menacing, now purveying an eerie charm – suggest a regretful inevitability. Led by Johnny Herford as a Joseph K, the cast project just the right blend of gallows humour, with Rowan Hellier, Amanda Forbes, and Paul Curievici (each in multiple roles) bringing real beauty to their arias.

The ending has a ghastly topicality: if its staging here is pure Islamic State, so is the corresponding scene in Kafka’s book.

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