George Buchner’s great working class tragedy Woyzeck has long cast a shadow over European theatre. The author’s death before having actually finished the play, along with it’s surrealist and oftentime acid trip-like imagery, have led to many debates over the correct interpretation of it’s dark and disturbing subject material. Here theatre company Spies Likes Us take a fresh and energetic perspective on the story. Utilising dance, physical theatre and music to craft a new take that still resonates with the original themes of poverty, exploitation and madness.
A tense, dark, and utterly exhilarating ride
Woyzeck follows the sad tale of the titular soldier. Stationed in a provincial town in the middle of nowhere he struggles to make enough to support his family, his put upon partner Marie and their child born out of wedlock. Desperate for money he does odd jobs for the local military captain and participates in experiments conducted by the regiment's cruel doctor. The cruelties forced upon him by his superiors along with his growing jealousy at Marie beginning to drift away from him, slowly begin to send his already teetering mind into a spiral of disaster.
The decision by the company to use physical theatre to tell this story is an inspired one, and the impeccable choreography and slick movement of the performers ensure stunning physical tableaus and dance sequences are crafted on stage. The exaggerated and almost gargoyle-like physicality of these scenes demonstrates the slowly crumbling mental state of our protagonist, and as the play progresses these moments become even more erratic and filled with a tense and distributing energy. Scenes shift and change without warning, characters and actors fluctuate, and even Woyzeck seems to loose his own sense of identity as his voice shifts from actor to actor in an inspired metaphor for his distingrating sense of self as his mental health begins to fail.
All of this aided by a production design that mates the mood and tone the players seek to emulate perfectly. Moody blue and sickeningly pink lights sculpt the bare stage in a representation of the fractured mental state of our protagonist. Whilst the sound design of warbling 50s Doo Wop groups creating a delightfully dark tonal dissonance to the horrific events happening on stage.
This sense of mania that envelops the play in the 3rd act is the only point where problems begin to show. Some of the performers are better able to distinguish between the varying characters they portray than others, which occasionally leads to confusion of who is meant to be who. Whilst the conclusion feels a tad rushed and wanting for an additional scene that ties the play’s themes together in a neater way.
Regardless, at its core Woyzeck stays true to the spirit and themes of its source material whilst providing a tense, dark, and utterly exhilarating ride in the process.