Paranoia piece

By Alice Neville

It is six o'clock on a Thursday evening and actor Liesha Ward-Knox is exhausted. For several weeks the 27-year-old has been rehearsing every day for The Trial but, under director Stephen Bain - known for his experimental and out-there approach to plays - it's no walk in the park.

"We're working from a physical base first," says Ward-Knox. "He says: 'Okay, I want you to move your hip that way and your leg this way.' It's interesting. I've never worked like that before."

The Trial, based on the 1925 chilling novel of paranoia by Franz Kafka, was adapted for the stage by Dean Parker, and is now showing at Auckland's Aotea Centre, or under the centre, to be precise.

The conference rooms beneath the centre are the setting, and the audience follows the action from room to room, mimicking the madness of bureaucracy that The Trial is all about.

"I still don't know how it's going to work," Ward-Knox says. "The director keeps doing diagrams."

Bain's previous works include Baby, Where Are The Fine Things You Promised Me?, a conceptual piece that toured the country and which Bain took to Europe last year. It featured a tiny house that he set up on the street and sat in, drawing many close inspections from passersby.

The previous year he staged the play The Arsehole in an Auckland shopfront, where pedestrians became a part of the show.

Ward-Knox plays five characters in The Trial, and there are another four actors as well as four musicians. With video installations as well, it's a very multimedia production, says Ward-Knox.

She would have loved to have been involved in the music selected for The Trial. Her father is New Zealand musician Chris Knox (who wrote Not Given Lightly for Liesha's mother, Barbara Ward). But despite a few piano lessons and a guitar she received one birthday, she can't play.

"That kind of fell by the wayside when acting came along. But now I wish I had learned. It's such a special thing to do, to be able to pick up a guitar and just play."

Instead, acting is what she has wanted to do since going to drama classes at the Performing Arts School at age 14, where the teacher would take her young charges to plays put on by the full-time degree students. "When I saw those actors it was like seeing movie stars. It may as well have been Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt. I was like, 'One day, I want to be like them'."

From school she went to Unitec, graduating with a bachelor of performing and screen arts in 2001. Acting was always an obvious choice, she says.

"I guess having arty parents, you never doubt that that's an option." As well as her musician father, "there were a lot of odd sounds coming out of rooms": her mother is a stone carver and her younger brother, John, is a masters student at Elam School of Fine Arts. Ward-Knox has worked mainly in theatre, including Auckland Theatre Company productions of Blackbird and Design For Living. TV stints include Mercy Peak and in Shortland Street as Jemima Hampton. "People didn't really like my character," she says. "I'd go to parties and girls would say, 'I'm sure you're nice in real life, but you're a cow on TV'."

Her goal is to work in film. In her final year of drama school she appeared in the thriller Hidden, which premiered at Mann's Chinese Theatre in Hollywood and screened at international festivals.

Ward-Knox prefers the more permanent nature of film, and says: "Once you've done a day's shoot that scene is over and done with. If you capture the moment, it's captured, and the best moments are put into the film, whereas with theatre you might capture different moments on different nights.

"It's nice to know when you've really nailed it, someone's got it and it's safe."

* Kafka's The Trial is showing at the Aotea Centre, Auckland, until November 28.

- Herald on Sunday

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