Review: The Woyzeck

Johannes Lenhard 14 March 2013

The Woyzeck

Mumford Theatre, Tues 12th- Wed 13th, 7.30

The appearance of the ‘drunk’ from among the audience marks the fulminant beginning of a delightfully refreshing Woyzeck. Sebastian Rex’ new translation of Georg Buchner’s classic script lives on the surprise and the unexpected. The original drama had not been finished before Buchner’s death in 1837, rendering the director a central figure in any adaptation. Rex takes full advantage of this by reducing the cast to four characters – Woyzeck, the Lover, the Oppressor and the Drunk- and by introducing unprecedented elements of dance and Brechtian audience participation. His visions add a dimension to the play while reducing the opulence of West End performances to a minimum that is intellectually stimulating.

Little information is given about the life of the paranoid Woyzeck (the impressive Samuel Griffiths) suffering from poverty and the experiments of the ruthless Oppressor (Ed Sheridan). But the brilliant individual performances, expressing perfectly Woyzeck’s dependence on the Lover’s (Stacey Norris) affection and his complete submission under the physical violence of the Oppressor, mean that no more context is needed. Ryan Wichert also gives a commendable performance as the Drunk, at times becoming a tartly comic stand-up.

The set that at first does not seem quite right for the massive stage but Anna Soboleva’s understated effort turns out to match the characters: a single room in simple colours. The carnevalesque music and, even more so, the dance-like movements drive the action and unite Buchner’s fragments. The sex-scene which is central to the play is turned it into a shadowy visual spectacle which engages with the audience’s imagination.

This production manages to find the essence of this story about the structurally oppressed underclass and express it artistically. The audience are left with a choice: to ignore the misery of the ordinary man or to acknowledge it. The Woyzeck plays out the tragic consequences of a society which makes to former choice.

Johannes Lenhard