Georg Büchner’s Woyzeck has been given a more modern twist from Jack Thorne, in this production, directed by Joe Murphy at The Old Vic. Delving into psychological issues and oppression amongst the working classes, this is a multi-layered production which really stands out for its staging and cast.
Woyzeck is a soldier stationed in 1981 West Berlin. Living in sin with the mother of his child means he is not permitted to reside on barracks and instead rents all that he can afford, a small flat above an abattoir, resulting in their accommodation, clothes and belongings stinking of meat. In an attempt to earn more money, Woyzeck carries out a number of menial jobs for his Captain (Steffan Rhodri), including shaving and massaging him. Meanwhile the Captain’s wife, Maggie (Nancy Carroll), is engaged in a secret affair with Woyzeck’s best friend, Andrews (Ben Batt).
Still unable to earn enough to lift his family out of poverty, Woyzeck enters into a clinical trial of a new drug, which slowly begins to drive him to madness and his traumatic past comes back to haunt him. The other characters drift in and out of his hallucinogenic state and we witness the descending spiral of his mental capacity.
The staging is quite beautiful, a series of insulated walls – one even has meat seeping out – float in from above and glide in and out of the wings, while patches of light illuminate areas of the stage in regimented order. At times the cast seem to appear out of nowhere and this is even before we admire Ben Hart’s subtle illusion. The walls move in waves with a pulsating rhythm, matching Gareth Fry’s impressively oppressive sound design. Jack Thorne has amended Büchner’s unfinished piece while keeping a sense of the original; Doctor Martens keeps plucking hairs from Woyzeck’s head, a nod to the characters profession in the original.
The cast do a wonderful job and Sarah Greene makes a particularly strong Marie. As Woyzeck, John Boyega gives an awe-inspiring performance, he captures every nuance of the character perfectly, and his dissent into madness is both enthralling and terrifying to witness. The chaos the character feels within his own mind translates to some intentionally bizarre scenes, which are almost shocking, leaving you feeling like you should look away – but can’t quite bring yourself to do so.
Woyzeck is an intriguing insight to the psychological effects of military service on young men, it has been very considerately staged and wonderfully cast to ensure the perfect re-telling of an old classic, to be enjoyed by a larger audience.