FESTIVAL OF CHICHESTER: Finding comedy in the sinister world of Kafka

Peter Waters admits there might just be a Marmite factor about Franz Kafka.


For all the people who are excited at the prospect, there will always be a few who fear they are going to be in for a heavy evening.

Peter’s task is to win over the doubters as he directs his own adaptation of Kafka’s The Trial for the Chichester Players as part of this year’s Festival of Chichester (June 29-July 2, 7.30pm, New Park Centre, Chichester). Peter is promising an enthralling evening – with a surprising amount of comedy.

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“The story starts when Josef K wakes up on his 35th birthday to look for his breakfast that is normally served by his landlady, only to find that somebody has arrived to arrest him, and so he is arrested in his bedroom.

“But once they have arrested him, he is free to go about his daily business. He is free to get on with his life, but from that moment, he is trying to establish why he was arrested and what he was supposed to have done and how he can possibly get it all sorted. His life becomes about trying to seek justice and knowledge and information and trying to understand how the court process works.

“It is like he is in a totalitarian regime. Everyone seems to know something that he doesn’t. But at the same time there are no real answers. The play follows his journey trying to find understanding, but all the characters that he meets, from the people at work to the people in the court process, are actually really funny. I think when you are watching you will be thinking you shouldn’t really be laughing, but actually it really is funny. Even though it is all very dark, there is a very strong black humour that will be coming out. And I think that’s actually how Kafka wrote it and intended it. You should also remember that Kafka was an Austrian Jew living in Prague, and he always had this feeling of isolation and of not fitting in. And you get that in the stories which are all about isolation and about not having a place in society. You could read the story as being about this man trying to work out how the court process works or it could be about a man trying to find out what his life is all about, what the point of life actually is. Or you could look at it all as being some kind of dream.

“For me, I love theatre that makes the audience think and that you come away from thinking even more. What I want to do is try to put my own stamp on it and show the kinds of things that I think it is about, but I want to keep that openness for people to interpret it in the way they think it should be interpreted.”

Most recently Peter directed Grease for Lavant: “I think that was a lot easier sell! But really with this, what I want to really put across is that it is going to be entertaining, that people will really laugh – while at the same time thinking they probably oughtn’t to be laughing! I think people will find it really intriguing and fascinating… but also very entertaining!”

Peter’s own interest in Kafka grew out of his related arts degree as a mature student in Chichester in the 1990s.

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