To sum up Ormond Collage Drama Club’s 2015 production Joseph K in one word would be a difficult task in itself, but if it had to be done, I’d probably go with some synonym of impressive. From the moment you walk in, the swirling smoke, glowing red set, and ambient, ominous growls set a dark and tense mood. The first few minutes spent examining the space adds to this – it really is a striking, realistic set, with four distinct spaces where the play takes place. It’s detailed and powerful, although some audience members may lose aspects of it, such as the monitors or the wall of the upper floor, depending on their perspective.
The play took some time to find its feet, with the first scene stumbling along; the lines were clunky and occasionally missed by the audience, causing some confusion. However the actors soon settled into their roles and the presence of an audience. The Guild Theatre is a big boxy space for sound to get lost in, so powerful vocal projection was needed; this was achieved by most actors throughout the performance, though some lines were lost, especially where background sound or music was used to add to the scene. The set was used brilliantly, reusing areas to be set in various locations while setting up the story nicely. I especially enjoyed the use of levels and thresholds within the space, which helped the audience become more engaged in the play. Lighting and multimedia really added depth to the performance, and I really liked the effect of the shadows created by the desk lamp in Joseph K’s office.
Ormond College Drama Club presented a high standard from all the actors, but there were some true standouts: Scout Boxall’s fantastic portrayal of the mildly-sociopathic Nathan Spicer, Drew Culhane’s relatively brief but wildly vivid role as Bear, and Kareem El-Ansary, who played the hilariously pretentious Ian Huld, to name a few. Alice Marks as Joseph K is fascinating to watch, conveying K’s masculinity, his transition from frustration to madness, and his sheer anger at ‘the system’ highly successfully. Subtle changes in hair and costume throughout the play also help convey the grim progression of events and disjointed time sequences which form the tense plot.
Themes of surveillance, secrecy and a general feeling of paranoia, juxtaposed with Tom Basden’s witty and in-depth script, must have posed quite a challenge to director Oscar Shaw, but all this was executed with skill and creativity. Some standout scenes for me were those in Joseph K’s office in the second act (a space where Joseph K could take control, opening up some great opportunities for Marks) and one of the first scenes of act II, where I was impressed by the smooth, flowing delivery of rapid lines in a fast-paced setting. And don’t be mistaken by the publicity material and content warnings – despite the dark themes, Joseph K is predominantly a funny play, with many brilliant moments of comedic timing, especially from Rose (Marni Walsh), Leni (Georgie Pender), Yvette (Megan Critchley) and the ensemble (Ben Symon, Jessy Reese, Tom Duke, Kai Perrignon) who all really get to show off their skills in a range of roles.
The plot develops and builds slowly, but leaves enough gaps in your knowledge of the play’s world to keep you keenly engrossed. I really found myself getting lost in it by the end of act I, even feeling impatient at the intermission. You get a real sense of unease whilst watching. The second act progressed steadily, but it was sometimes unclear exactly what was happening as the show went on, in part due to a mix of fast-paced dialogue tripping over itself, and again, recorded sound played slightly too loudly. However the final scenes were truly powerful and spine-chilling, with amazing performances from the cast – especially Boxall and the ensemble’s vocal work.
Overall I think Ormond College Drama Club presented a wonderful piece, especially considering the size of the cast and complexity of the set. Basden’s script, an adaptation of Franz Kafka’s The Trial, is clever but demanding, and Shaw has done its Australian premiere proud.
Ormond College’s production of Joseph K ran in the Guild Theatre, Union House, the University of Melbourne from 5-8 August.