Spies Like Us Theatre made an incredible debut at last year’s fringe with Our Man in Havana, and they return in 2018 with a stunning new adaptation of Georg Büchner’s masterpiece Woyzeck. This is no easy play to adapt, especially for a fringe setting, yet Ollie Norton-Smith and Hamish Lloyd Barnes have grasped this unfinished working-class tragedy and made it feel entirely complete.
Franz Woyzeck is a soldier, and an unmarried father. Money is scarce and he has both the baby and its mother, Marie to support. He does odd jobs for the Captain, shaving him and manicuring his nails. It’s still not enough, and Woyzeck resorts to taking part in medical experiments, forced to eat nothing but peas for three months. Marie struggles to resist the advances of a Drum Major who is buying her gifts, as Woyzeck becomes more dehumanised, and his mental state declines rapidly.
Spies Like Us have become masters of physical theatre, this ensemble piece is constructed with incredible awareness and understanding of Büchner’s work. Each movement seems to tell its own story, as the cast weave together this crushing tale. Some beautifully designed lighting adds to the suffocating and oppressive narrative.
Alex Holley gives a powerful performance as Woyzeck, the pain and angst carved in to his face and body movements. Phoebe Campbell pulls out Marie’s desperation against Tulio Campanale’s confident and swaggering Drum Major. Campanale also plays the Doctor with satisfying menace, while Rosa Collier’s Andres plays well aside Holley as the protagonist. Co-adaptor Hamish Lloyd Barnes takes on the roles of Captain and Showman, demonstrating a wonderful flexibility in his performance.
This adaptation of Woyzeck is simply mesmerising, and I would suggest even more self-aware than the Old Vic production in 2017. The quality of the writing is matched by strong performances and a masterclass in physical theatre and movement. Spies Like Us have demonstrated for the second year running that they are an exceptional theatre company with an unrivalled understanding of the work they create.