Review: RETZ’s The Trial, East London

“This is the greatest spying machine in the world”

In amongst the passers-by are faceless bureaucrats, enigmatic policemen, supercilious legal representatives, sinister prison guards, cheery administrators, mysterious bowler-hatted men. These and many more besides are on hand to take you through a most disconcerting experience woven into the nooks and crannies of Hoxton as your trip to the Department for Digital Privacy is turned on its head with a split-second decision that could leave you standing accused of terrible crimes by the authorities. Just what those crimes are might never become clear to you, as such is the premise of Kafka’s Josef K whose presence looms large here as one falls into the rabbit-hole of a nightmarish justice system gone wrong.

RETZ’s The Trial is an immersive version of 2 Kafka novels – The Trial and In The Penal Colony – split into two parts (although both can be experienced on the same evening) which take its audience on a head-spinning journey into various buildings and streets of East London and through a series of one-to-one encounters that could well leave you questioning your own status, your own rights, your own innocence (or otherwise!) as the entry into the dizzying and secretive orbit of Josef happens at the same time as the time and date for your very own trial is pressed into your hand.

As with so much immersive theatre, the best experience comes from the unexpected and so few details will be revealed here. But it is safe to say the experience works best when it is at its most unpredictable, wrong-footing its audience, pulling disconcerting encounters out of the bag and for the first part, leaving one questioning what is part of the show and what is part of regular East London life. The updating of the narrative to incorporate such modern innovations as CCTV, cybercrime and identity theft lends a menacingly realistic sheen onto events and the potential is certainly here to leave you shaken and stirred and questioning just how much of a good thing the internet is.

This type of theatre also has its pitfalls too in the variability of an individual’s journey through the show. Given the power of what is happening, the ending is strangely anticlimactic and perhaps representative of actually traversing the legal system, there’s an awful lot of waiting around at various junctures, in my case as others’ cases were prioritised over my own. Being abandoned alone in a locked room for what felt like ages but which was eventually filled up with others sapped a huge amount of tension out of what had been a highly effective sequence. And with such a large cast involved in the show, there was considerable variation in the quality of interaction, something which ought to smooth out over the run as when it is good, it is very good indeed.

Running time: depends on when your trial date is set, but part 1 is roughly 50 minutes, part 2 roughly 70 minutes
Booking until 27th April

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