The Naturalistic Approach to Kafka's The Trial in Berkoff's Play

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In this research report, I will be talking about Steven Berkoff's play, ‘The Trial’. The novel was written by Franz Kafka between 1914 and 1915. The play tells the story of Josef K. (The main character) who has been arrested and prosecuted by the lawyers which will not reveal the crime to him or the audience. The trial was first performed in 1970 in London and officially published in 1981. The main objective for the play was that the audience notice the different social classes that each character portrays. The main themes for ‘The Trial’ are gender roles, justice and judgement. Throughout my essay I will go into more detail with each theme. Kafka's play questions the relationship of justice and law by being unfair and not equal with social class and rights. Berkoff was inspired by Bertolt Brecht work of epic theatre and used his ideas in many different productions. Brecht wanted to make the audience think and use a range of different appliances to remind them that they are watching the theatre and not real life. However Berkoff believed in theatre being natural and for the audience to feel like they are watching a naturalistic piece which isn't exaggerated. For example Brecht discovered the ‘V’ effect, gestus, placards, symbolic probs and ect. I will be explaining each of these in more detail within my report.

Bertolt Brecht was born in 1898 in Augsburg, which is a German town. His mother was a devout protestant and his father was a Roman Catholic. Brecht’s father worked for a paper mill and In 1914 he took over it by being the manager. Brecht’s home life was middle class, therefore he had money but not a lot of it which didn’t change anything about him. His father recommended him to register for a medical course at Munich University in which he enrolled there in 1917. At the university he studied drama with Arthur Kutscher who had inspired Brecht in his love performing drama. From July 1916, Brecht’s work started to get noticed on newspaper articles appearing under the name; Bert Brecht. In July 1919, Brecht and his girlfriend at the time, Paula Banholzer had a son who they named Frank and sadly in 1920 she died. In 1922 Brecht then married a women named Marianne Zoff who was a Viennese opera singer. They had a daughter together with the name Hanne Hiob. Brecht’s marriage to Zoff slowly started to break down in 1923 however they did not divorce until 1927 and then Brecht had another child Stefan in which was born in October 1924 with Helene Weigel. In the First World War he served as a medical attendant meaning he had the responsibility for the non-medical care. From this he went to Munich and then Berlin to pursue his career in theatre. Sadly, this had come to an end as in 1933 the Nazis came to Germany. In 1941, Brecht moved to America but then returned back to Europe in 1947. Near to Brecht’s death, 1956, he established the Berliner Ensemble which was the first group of actors to perform professionally. This was said to be the greatest theatrical practitioners. Brecht died on the 14th of August in 1956 due to a heart attack at the age if 58. Brecht was influenced by Karl Marx as he was became interested into his theories of socialism. Therefore these practitioners made him realise that he wanted Epic Theatre. Epic theatre stated that any play should not allow the viewer to connect emotionally with the characters or actions but instead should reflect and have a critical view. By Brecht being a political writer, he would have expected a modern production to address all the current issues that happen in society whilst trying to remain true to his ideals.

He wanted his audience to be distant to the emotional behaviour so that they could make social comments that related to his play and have different judgements. He stated that the act of distancing yourself from the audience with emotional investment was called the ‘V’ effect. He aimed for his characters to avoid emotional investment and also to make sure that the audience were fully aware that they were not watching a ‘real life’ performance. With Epic Theatre It breaks the fourth wall which is an imaginary wall that keeps the actors and the audience as spectators. Brecht had a lot of different techniques such as: direct address, narration, speaking the stage directions, using placards, etc. With this essay, I will be explaining in more detail; placards, gestus, verbal stage directions, social status and feeding the lines. With social status, as a class we were given a character of society or occupations to become. We then put our characters in order of social class which made us consider the quality of life and money. From this, we then learnt ‘feeding the line’, this is where characters repeat lines quietly into the actors ears. We found that this helped deliver character focus on the character rather than focusing on only the voice. Another affection Brecht technique is ‘verbal stage directions’, this is where when the characters who aren't performing on the stage would narrate the directions that each character needed to peruse. Brecht liked to use placards on stage which is sign or an additional piece of writing which contain information related to the play. It can simply be one word to describe the location, setting, time, ect. The placard is effective as it allows the audience to notice what is happening in the scene and to not be confused. Finally, the last technique I will be expressing is ‘gestus’. It is a clear gesture or movement created by the actor that approaches a movement or attitude rather than showing emotion. The audience will interpret the build on the characters social role and why they are showing the type of attitude they are portraying. Epic theatre is the absence of empathy within the audience. For example, epic theatre is not neat, it doesn’t really make sense.

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The narrative starts and ends there is no middle which leaves cliffhangers, making the audience keen to find out what happens next. Throughout the piece, epic theatre shows an argument with a clear political argument. In more detail, The ‘v’ effect, verfremdungseffekt, simply means distancing so either distancing away from different characters or even the audience. Brecht wanted this effect to make the audience remain interested and engaged by the drama on the stage otherwise his message would be lost and his audience would loose concentration. It was an emotional investment in the characters which he aimed to avoid. Narration uses the ‘v’ effect by reminding the audience what it is that they are watching is a story, on some occasions the narrator will state what is about to happen before the story has happened which means the audience are not emotionally involved in the action as they aren’t aware of the outcome. Speaking the stage directions is another device which was used by Brecht a lot more frequently, it helps distance the actor from the character they have been told to play. It also reminds the audience that they’re watching a play which then forces them to study the actors of the characters objective. Brecht liked to experiment with different types of staging, for example multi-rolling. This is when an actor plays more than one character onstage. The audience are able to identify a different character through the use of voice, movement, gesture and body language however the audience can clearly identify that the same actor has taken on more roles and this means that they are then aware of the fact that they are watching a presentation of different events. In addition split-role is also a type of staging as this is where more than one actor plays the same character. An example of this would be where the actor playing a main character might rotate from scene to scene, this then keeps that characters representation and emotional involvement attached onto the audience. Adding to gestus, every movement was important and could really define and identify who your character was and what your narrative is. When rehearsing a play that involved gestus, Brecht and his actors would take photographs of each movement and work on them effectively. When performing Brecht didn’t want the actors to be characters onstage, he only wanted to show them as a type of person. From the audiences point of view they will then interpret the characters social role and why they are behaving in these different ways. This then portrays the daily message that we in society we judge every single character (person) and their situation rather than just understanding them.

With Epic theatre, it has a dramatic storyline or plot. The narrative starts and ends and can sometimes leave a lot of issues unresolved which instantly leave the audience on a cliffhanger. Epic theatre is an inspiration to action whereas as Brecht thought dramatic theatre was entertainment, it should engage the audience in an emotional experience only for their time at the theatre. Dramatic theatre has a linear narrative meaning all the events are functioned in chronological order and Epic theatre is non-non-linear, meaning it jumps about in time. Epic theatre is an argument it has a clear political view and makes the audience remain objectified and they watch a montage of scenes. By the audience standing outside the action, the audience can then study the story and easily recognise the social realities.

Steven Berkoff was born on the 3rd of August 1937 and is an English character actor, author, playwright and theatre director. He was born in Stepney which is in the East End of London. His family are from Romania and Russia however he is very Jewish. Stevens real name was Leslie Steven Berks however throughout the years he got rid of the ’S’ at the end of his name and changed it to ‘Off’, going by his middle name. Berkoff went to many different excellent schools when he was younger such as, Raines Foundation Grammar School, Hackney Downs School, Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art and finally L'École Internationale de Théâtre Jacques Lecoq which is in Paris. In the months of July and June in 1962 he started his theatre training in the Reparatory Company at ‘Her Majesty’s Theatre’. He wrote many plays such as: The Metamorphosis (1969); In the Penal Colony (1969) and The Trial (1971), ect. In 1991, Berkoff’s play won the ‘Evening Standard Theatre Award’ for best comedy. With Berkoff’s plays, he has written and spoken about how he personally believes jewish people and Israels are to be regarded in Britain. Once he finished studying drama and mime in Paris and London, he entered a series of different companies and in 1968 he formed the London Theatre Group. Steven has also acted in many different films such as: Rambo, Beverly Hills Cop, ect. His first ever roll in a film was in 1959 in the film ‘Fractured Jaws’. He also directed and co-starred with Joan Collins in the film version of his play Decadence. Berkoff has also published a different range of books on the theatre such as the production journals, ‘I am Hamlet’, ‘Meditations’, ect. His work has also led him to explore the world and he wrote about his love of travelling in his book. ‘East’ was Berkoff’s first original play to be performed and then established him as having a major talent. He is now currently performing over the world and was nominated the most performed playwright after Shakespeare.

In some of Berkoff’s productions such as; ‘East’ and ‘West’, he used the Shakespearean style of language to show difficulty but pairing it with a lot of cockney slang and swearing. This then portrays Berkoff’s physical style. Berkoff’s approach to theatre is physical, his style is non-naturalistic often focusing mainly on movement rather than using voice. Physical theatre is defined as a form of theatre that puts more motivation on movement rather than the dialogue, It is very abstract and uses stylised movement and different representations. Stylised movement is a piece of drama which is very realistic and down to earth. A lot of performers tend to use very little probs and movements and speeches are exaggerated. This is because, the director doesn’t want the audience to concentrate on the acting but on the narrative and the overall performance. In ‘The Trial’ Berkoff used this technique so that the use of a lot of people created that everything allows great opportunities, this then gives off a dynamic impact. Berkoff stated that the only purpose of a script is to help minimalist and physicalise the story, simplyifing it down to the most important bits. Berkoff also had Total Theatre, this was taken from Artaud who is another theatre practitioner. Antonin Artaud developed The Theatre of Cruelty, this is where movements were aimed to shock the audience through gestures, images, sound and lighting. Artaud wanted to disrupt the relationship between the audience and the performer. He is very similar to Berkoff as he also believes that gesture and movement is more powerful then text. Total Theatre is where every aspect of theatre is being maintained and must have a purpose. Every movement that the character provides is choreographed and each line Is practised perfectly. The objective in Total Theatre is to create high moods to give the audience a fanatical experience and to amuse, scare, amaze or shock them. In The Trail Berkoff embraced this in his Kafka adaptations. Correspondingly, in Total Theatre they're performances were often minimalistic with minimal stages and little language, therefore all the focus is on the physical movement and not on all of the effects or creation of each scene. This then conveys the idea that Total Theatre detaches the audience from the play and make them think about what was being said. When studying the trial at school we used a lot of different Berkoff techniques. For example we used status where we showed different levels and distances with different type of jobs, this portrayed how people are judged into society. We also used gesture to define a character that we had to play. Physical theatre focuses a lot on movement however it can also be devised swell or even contain substantial elements of work beyond the script given. The elements consist of: music, dance, media, ect. Performers reach out to the fourth wall making the audience wanting to connect or get involved with the action. With Physical Theatre the main techniques that Berkoff focused on was: mime, gesture, status, proximity, stance, harshness and tenderness, movement, not moving, mask work, dance work and lastly motif. A lot of these different techniques we have studied in our class. As you can see I briefly spoke about some of the expertises we did and as a class we really enjoyed them. We also did the mask work exercise which made the impact of the mask visual and without the facial features it shows action and movement becomes more central.

In conclusion, Steven Berkoff and Bertolt Brecht are both amazing playwrights however they both have they’re differences and also similarities which makes them very important people still to this day.

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