Theatre Review: ‘Woyzeck’

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Photo by Alex Wimbush of Olexi Photography

 Lancaster University Theatre Group finished its season with Georg Büchner’s acclaimed play, Woyzeck. Their last of the four productions this term, Woyzeck ensured its resonance through the strong performances from its cast and the overall methodical theatre-making. Notably, that elusive balance was struck between dramatic action and the use of visual-aural effects that served to present a chaotic world which was the foremost challenge faced by the production team, led by director Matthew Bosley. His well-adapted version of the play, particularly the scenes between Woyzeck and the Captain, highlighted the Marxist focus on the oppressed which precursors Brecht’s renowned maxim: “First comes the bread, then the morals.”

Visceral images dispersed throughout the performance remained in the audience’s mind long after the stage lights went down. It opens with a pre-play in a dark place resembling a morgue, featuring a corpse centre stage and the Doctor, played by Ronnie Rowlands, going about his peculiar business. Already, there is the sense of timelessness that, throughout, is maintained by the sound design and atmospheric lighting states.

Those with a discerning eye who were also familiar with the story might be quite dismayed when a few salient moments where lost. A perfect example being the deliverance of the line “I’d rather have a knife in my heart.” Surprisingly, though, a thought- provoking performance was given by Pippa McGuire (Marie), playing a part that is all too often disregarded as supporting. Marie’s emotional journey from faithful wife to hateful harlot typifies the well known virgin-whore dichotomy explored in theatre, but McGuire’s interpretation added touches of innocence and vulnerability amidst her gritty perseverance. Tamsin Brown (Margaret), nonetheless, stole the scene from McGuire, as she bore the irritating voice of morality. Similarly, The Doctor and the rest of the characters did so, thwarting Woyzeck’s happiness.

An infamously difficult male role, Woyzeck is on the same level of unplayability as Stanley from “A Streetcar Named Desire” and Torvald of Ibsen’s “A Doll’s House”. The idiosyncrasies of all three, resulting from their unhappy relationships, make it difficult for the actor to show all the facets of these complex characters. Luke Weeks displayed a frail Woyzeck which exhibited hints of joy through the desolate and hurried predisposition of this soldier, cuckolded by the coarse Drum Major (Alexander Varey), condescended by the Captain (Laurence Beagley) and contrived by the the Sergeant (William Cross); all this without seeking too much spectator sympathy.

The major downfall of this production is the minimal presence given to Andres, Woyzeck’s closest confidante. Even in the second act, where Andres would be expected to be seen more, it felt as though he was absent. Steven Szoltysek, despite this, managed to show Andres’ emphatic pain whenever he treaded the boards.

Emily Dixon shone through her character’s monologue. The Grandmother’s tale served as an allegorical précis of the tragedy, and required an actress’ deep understanding of the play. Albeit their little stage time, she and another multi-role cast member, Josh Cannon (barman and salesman) matched the overall standard of the cast. Sydney Keough gave a standout performance as The Showmaster, mastering her speech and characterisation to the minutest detail. Questions about man’s control over nature persist throughout, cleverly explored in the carnival scene where Keough demonstrates with a monkey, portrayed by a Boggle – the most fascinating feature of this production. Bosley’s highly original idea, directed by Georgia Bold, served to represent the malevolent mental phenomena attributed to Woyzeck’s behaviour.

Silence and stillness were rarely used in the performance and it is rather a shame, especially when the Boggles would pull focus from the main action. Their plasticity and contortion are highly commended, nevertheless, the limitation on the movements to the torso and the upper half of the body did not extend the movement fully. It borders on being too safe and not taking enough risks with challenging, gravity-defying physical theatre like that of Frantic Assembly, Tangled Feet or DV8. The movement director’s usage of space, on the other hand, is excellent and proves to be an effective experiment at breaking the ‘fourth wall’ which is always in danger of insignificance. This, along with their recurring presence truly emphasises the threatening ubiquitous nature of thoughts.

Woyzeck was a greatly orchestrated theatrical event, and was simply unmissable. Their almost sell-out performances testify to the steadily increasing relevance of LUTG in the Nuffield Theatre and university culture. The outstanding quality of the performances is highly laudable considering the short period of rehearsal time and the hard work devoted by the cast, production team and stage crew consummated to create a production that will set the bar for the upcoming LUTG season.

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