Edinburgh Fringe 2009
Venue: Pleasance, Baby Grand
Festival: Edinburgh Fringe
Woyzeck is one of those dark Gothic plays that exemplifies 19th century German literature: a horrid tale of broken dreams and madness, high drama in the gutter. This ambitious re-telling, performed with style and verve by Splendid Productions, takes this Gothic nightmare and transforms it into a modern farce, with flashes of the original piece shining through. The actors leave you delightfully teetering between humour and horror, and the simple and minimalist staging only adds to their strange world. A better choice of play would make this show a little less awkward, but Woyzeck is still well worth a look.
The story of Woyzeck is of a soldier returning to his sweetheart from the front. It turns on its head the traditional tableau by making the soldier a disease-ridden medical subject, and his sweetheart a penniless beggarwoman. Woyzeck (the soldier) murders her for sleeping with another man, claiming that the voices in his head made him do it, and we are left unsure whether his madness came from his medical tests, or whether he was always insane.
This inventive production managed to find comedy in the above, with the three actors slipping into a variety of roles, and using and abusing their many, many musical instruments to create a truly vibrant and energetic set. Much of their production was based around the actual writing of Woyzeck: Buchner died halfway through, and the play was reconstructed from scenes found on his desk. In this vein, this production bounced back and forth along the story-line, showing the disjointed effort to understand Woyzeck’s character, and indulging the audience in his madness. This was the least best realised aspect of the production: there were too many seperate scenes, and what started off as jumping around ended up being a straight run-thru minus the scenes done earlier. If it had been a little more adventurous, this would have been truly exciting. As such, it was a great idea that needed more development.
However, this is one of my few direct criticisms. Most other aspects of the show were stellar, with the episodic nature of the scenes highlighting the various company members’ talents, and talented they most certainly are. The music numbers were interesting and fun, especially the ‘Stab the Bitch Dead’ piece, where the audience was encouraged to sing along and then became the voices in Woyzeck’s head, encouraging him to murder his sweetheart: we suddenly all felt horrifyingly complicit, this was a really excellent conceit. The piece was well-performed across the board, with special mention going to Scott Smith for his portrayal of Woyzeck. A simple movement to get him in and out of character worked a charm, and it was clear how hard he was working: the sweat flowing off him was certainly a good indication!
This show deserves a lot of credit for being as slick and enjoyable as it is. The material did not lend itself directly to a humourous interpretation, but the actors still managed to create a darkly comic piece out of it. The tone felt slightly off, and some of the jokes were set up to be in low taste and ended up just being unneccessarily awkward. Some different material, or maybe a little more tact in portraying it, would have fit the acting style better, and made the piece better for it. Nonetheless, their efforts with this material do show their talents, and Splendid Productions are certainly ones to look out for.