Woyzeck by Georg Büchner remains one of the most performed and influential plays in German theatre. I studied the play during my A-Level Drama course last year, it’s a fantastic play with so much room for interpretation. Going into the theatre I had somewhat of an idea of what it was going to be like.
Boy was I wrong.
Jack Thorne’s adaptation exhaled a breath of fresh air into the play. I had expected something completely different to what was shown before me and I really enjoyed the fact it wasn’t what I had first I magined. This furthered the mystery of the play to me in some ways and made me fall in love with it all over again. Büchner died before his play was ever finished leaving the order of the play a mystery waiting to be solved.
Nick, my companion for the performance said this “I don’t think you can think of it as ‘Woyzeck’ as it was written.”
I think he’s quite right.
In order for me to watch this performance I had to completely abandon my existing knowledge of the play and my own ideas of how I would transform the play. This made me so much more aware to new things within the storyline and new possibilities.
It was eye-opening.
Jack Thorne based his version in 1980’s Berlin on the border between the East and West during The Cold War. The world is torn between Capitalism and Communism. Meanwhile the young soldier Woyzeck tries to make a life for himself, his girlfriend Marie and their child. In the play the East is painted as an area controlled by the Soviets, with its citizens in an oppressed and controlled state with the West idealised and controlled by the British to be the complete opposite. But what is interesting to see is that through the characters we soon begin to question whether or not they are actually free within the midst of poverty and social status.
The play followed a linear structure in terms of storytelling which contrasts to the original play, with Büchner’s play feeling quite disjointed in its smaller scenes. Thorne recreates the language that is used and turns Woyzeck into a much more conversational and lengthened out production which worked extremely in his favour in terms of relevance to today’s audience. I was a bit skeptical at first but warmed to it 3/4 way into Act 1. Büchners intentions were evident and there were references to his themes throughout the play.
John Boyega takes the lead in this production, commanding the stage showing his power from the get go alongside his down to earth Irish girlfriend Marie (Sarah Greene). They compliment each other nicely in their roles. There was a moment in Act 1 when Woyzeck took Marie to look out at the East’s skyline in the evening. The stage dimmed and a warm orange light illuminated the pair downstage as they sat on the edge of it creating a magical moment for the two.
Act 2 had me questioning everything.
In a good way.
It featured a bed scene with Andrews having sex upstage with Maggie, the Mother and Marie simultaneously with an unstable Woyzeck parading around the stage with his mind deteriorating. Maggie/Mother (Nancy Carroll) was incredible. Her performance was exquisite making her a delight to watch. Thorne’s spin on the original script made her character have much more importance within the plot and it was a nice touch on his part. Mixing Andrews with Andres and the Drum Major was also another clever move by Jack Thorne. I enjoyed this concoction of characters as it made the play much more interesting to watch. Andrews does bare all, in every sense of the phrase, bringing that spark of fun and like-ability to his character.
Boyega completely transformed in Act 2 and we saw a real sense of journey within his character from the man that is coping to the man who is in despair. His performance was electrifying and fully committed. Much like his other half Greene who was consistently believable in her performance as Marie.
Tom Scutt’s set consisted of movable walls that were lifted and lowered and moved across the stage. These created fantastic scene changes with the aid of lighting and music. The walls themselves were made out of insulation and this added to the idea of the play getting hotter and hotter in line with Woyzeck’s mental state. I thought the idea of them living in a flat above a halal butchers to be really clever as the further into the play we got the more the set revealed gory insides from these insulation walls. It reflected the demise of Woyzeck.
Overall, whilst it wasnt the ‘original’ Woyzeck it was still Woyzeck. It was a Woyzeck that is accessible for today in terms of real psychology and backstory for a contemporary audience. It’s linear structure was a narrative and held the essence of what Woyzeck is. It was a credible production, one Thorne should be extremely proud of.
Woyzeck runs at The Old Vic Theatre until Saturday 24th June 2017.
Photos by Manuel Harlan.