ONE hundred years ago playwright Franz Kafka wrote his novel The Trial. Although published in 1925 after his death it is one of his best known works telling a scary and nightmarish story of secrecy and ordinary terror.
Since publication, it has been adapted for both stage and screen including the Orson Welles film in 1962.
It is now being reprised in a new version adapted by Nick Gill and staged at the Young Vic.
It stars Rory Kinnear, arguably one of the finest actors of his generation who makes his debut at the Waterloo theatre.
He plays the central character, Josef K, who is arrested on the morning of his 30th birthday after being visited at home by unidentified state agents and accused of an unspecified crime.
Josef is bewildered by spiralling layers of bureaucracy and the more sinister motives which lurk beneath them. He begins a dark descent into a waking nightmare of bizarre humiliations and compulsive procedures.
“We are into about the second or third week,” Rory tells me in a snatched lunch break during rehearsals at the Copperfield Rehearsal Rooms in Southwark. “We are just tip toeing around it all.
“It's a fascinating story. Josef is arrested but isn't told what he’s been arrested for. In the end he gets dragged down a labyrinth world of legalese and into a cul de sac of the law he never really knew existed.”
It sounds scary stuff – almost Big Brother-ish but the Kennington-based actor says people will be able to identify with aspects of Josef’s predicament.
“It’s not just about the law and society but about a crisis in a man and who goes through a series of hellish hoops and still doesn’t find an answer to what’s going on,” says Rory.
“The crunch of it is to find out what keeps Josef rooted and what his crisis is.
“He’s someone who has failed to make human connections. He’s quite successful in his job but part of what may chime with modern audiences is a sense of dislocation and that he’s unable to find the human connections that arise and that he shies away from. It’s his crisis that he can’t adapt himself as a functioning member of society.
"There is quite a lot of talk about depression which I think many would relate to.
“But such is the visual imagery that in lots of ways it’s bright, entertaining and amusing,” he adds light-heartedly.
“There is plenty for the audience to take in and be entertained by. Some of it is absurd – it definitely has an absurdest comic edge."
It turns out that the 37-year-old has been involved with the production since October when the Young Vic asked him to do a series of workshops to see if they could make it into a production.
“Initially it was serendipity,” he says when I ask him what drew him to the role. “I was going to do a show but it fell through. The next day I watched the Orson Welles version of the film. Then soon after the Young Vic offered me this. It was fate.”
Fate aside there were plenty of other reasons why Rory was keen to take on the role.
“Quite a lot of people read the book when they are in the 18 to 20 mark in their life and I was one of them,” he says warmly.
“It was published posthumously and the order of chapters was guessed at rather than set down in stone.
“There are lots of things I think he would have edited out had he had a tougher editor than himself,” he chuckles.
“But it is rich and potent, very earthy and grounded with incredible imagery. That’s why so many writers and film makers are drawn to it.
“I’ve read both of Nick Gill’s plays and he’s got a great distinctive voice so that was another pull. Plus the part is pretty meaty – I’m never off stage, something I’ve not done before. So there is a bit of me that is masochistic about that,” he laughs.
Meaty roles have featured heavily in Rory’s career to date – most recently his award-winning performances of Iago and Hamlet for the National Theatre and his portrayal of Lord Lucan in ITV’s drama Lucan.
Plus he's also known to many as MI6's Bill Tanner in the James Bond films Quantum of Solace and Skyfall - and if playing Josef wasn't challenging enough he's currently filming a third in the franchise - Spectre, due out in November.
I ask what his motivation is for tackling such characters.
“I tend to feel everyone does has a justification for what they do whether they are goodies or baddies,” he says.
“Iago’s slight against his status and perceived cuckolding by Othello was his justification and with Lucan his life had reached such a point of collapse he felt the only way out of it was to murder his wife.
“As an actor you have to find the reasons why they behave as they do. At a distance after you finish playing them you can see where they went wrong. But you have to find a justification.
“There is a challenge but it’s nice to play complex characters and form a back story to these people. There is a certain level of damage and it’s the same with Josef.
“There is a great level of emotional collapse with him whereas I’m a really sunny and sanguine chap. That’s the fun thing about acting, to play people you are not and try and dig around to find out why other people exist, act or behave as they do.”
So back to The Trial, which has already had its run extended, and it's clear he’s raring to go.
“I go to a lot of shows at the Young Vic so I’m hugely excited to be able to perform here at last,” he says.
“It’s a great theatre and has had a fantastic run of success. I’ve been on the board for the last few years... there might be a coincidence there,” he jokes.
“The main house is like walking into an entirely different theatre each time. The production teams and their ability to make visions come to life is second to none.
“Also I do get itchy if I have not done a play for a while and this is longest time I’ve gone without doing a play.”
And it’s a mere hop, skip and a jump from his home in Kennington which he shares with his partner and their two young children.
“Being able to do a play and not be away from home is a real joy,” he says. “I do TV series called Penny Dreadful in Ireland and that takes up six months of the year so it’s nice to be here for a while.
“We moved to Kennington three years ago – and I’m not moving again!
“It’s a great place and we really love it - plus it has the added bonus of being a 15 minute commute from work - what could be better!”
The Trial is on at the Young Vic, The Cut from Friday until August 22. Visit www.youngvic.org or call the box office on 020 7922 2922 for tickets.