Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

“Underwritten and Superficial...Strident Vignettes”

National Theatre: Comment

The Cost of Living , Swansea Grand Theatre , April 1, 2023
National Theatre: Comment by The Cost of Living No newspaper reviewers attended the National Theatre of Wales' first production in four months. The IWA was there 24th March:

“The centrepiece, Joseph K and the Cost of Living, directed by Lorne Campbell, Kel Matsena and Anthony Matsena, is a stage adaptation of Franz Kafka’s The Trial, first released in 1925.

“...The play’s themes – authoritarian states, the administrative burden laid on the powerless, permanent surveillance – all feel poignantly topical and urgent. The play’s set, designed by Cai Dyfan, is tasteful and sparse, the cast appropriately dressed in shades of bureaucratic greige. Sadly, the script is underwritten and superficial, and the production can only remedy some of its gaps.

“Dividing Joseph K into four characters from different backgrounds (a white man, a white woman, a trans woman and a black man), the play’s central conceit, ends up leaving little room to explore the protagonists. Jo K’s successive embodiments are only presented in the light of their oppression and quickly shooed off, despite valiant efforts from actors Joni Ayton-Kent, Gruffudd Glyn, Kel Matsena and Lucy Ellinson.

“The play tries to speak to so many aspects of intersectional identities and experiences of oppression that it leaves all of them unexamined in favour of a series of strident vignettes

“There is a lack of subtlety to the protagonists’ experience with the mechanisms of the state and quite a few scenes – the encounter with a social media guru, Titorelli, set on helping K improve his image, or K’s visit to a church which ends with a litany of exclamations (‘Don’t preach me a sermon!’) – ring hollow and cliched.

“In an increasingly multi-religious society, the church scene is perhaps one of the play’s most dated aspects given the Catholic Church’s loss of relevance as an all-powerful symbol of oppression, but this is a matter for another article. K’s trial, staged as a television show, is trope-ridden and, frankly, uninspired, maybe because using a television show as a universal metaphor is also starting to feel dated.

“In short, the play tries to do so much, and speak to so many aspects of intersectional identities and experiences of oppression that it leaves all of them unexamined in favour of a series of strident vignettes. The script’s ham-fisted insistence on rehashing already well-trodden avenues (Post truth! Surveillance!) further crowds out any opportunity for the characters to become more than generic stand-ins for a series of topical issues...the creative process cannot make up for poor writing.”

Excerpts with thanks and acknowledgement from the full review which can be read at:

* * * *


Announcement of the production appeared late. In January the the company had no theatre programme at all for the year.

The promotion, when it came, opened with the strapline “a three-part experience that takes a two-fingered swipe at the cost of living crisis.”

It was manifestly not drama. That had its reason; it is a theatre company that avoids drama.

Its hectoring nature was foretold before it opened. The playwright appeared on BBC Cymru Wales Radio Arts Show 10th March to say of her audience: “I provokes them in the right way, to kind of direct them into blaming the people in power.”

The interview continued: "The cost of living crisis has been caused in the main part by the greed and corruption of the most wealthy members of our society.”

This is myopic. A neo-imperial war of re-conquest in Europe was launched 24th February 2022 and wreaked havoc on global food and energy supply chains.

The quality of the theatre production can most likely be attributed to the fact of the company's inattention. Much of the promotion, which lacked clarity, was spread across secondary events. This led to a comment: “I think it was falsely advertised.” The over-flow of words left the impression that the company had the least interest in the theatre production.

Co-director Kel Matsena said strangely: “Kafka's work is monstrous.”

The production was all in a line with the trend for “re-imaginings” of works by authors of greatness. Those writers from the past are defenceless.

The trend is less a use of the imagination than a substitute for a lack of innovation and invention.

Photo credit: Kirsten McTernan

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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