Tue 23rd – Sat 27th February 2016


Conor McKee

at 01:06 on 24th Feb 2016



The central performances of Joe Sefton (Woyzeck) and Dolores Carbonari (Marie) were both excellent but the show was hampered by some bizarre directorial decisions. I was generally impressed by the staging where a limited budget was used to good effect: the combination of strobe lights, brash over-amped music and constant yelling reminded me of the dehumanising effects of those ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ Western governments have attempted to justify in recent years. Similarly, the open stage design which spread the audience around the action in a semi-circle helped to create the sense of an Orwellian environment without privacy and the script had been adapted to suggest that there were cameras hidden in Woyzeck and Marie’s house as part of the scientific study they are participating in.

These both seemed like subtle and intelligent ways to resituate Büchner’s play in the 21st century without compromising the narrative structure of the original text.

Nevertheless, there were issues with the overall tone of this production. Büchner is not shy about depicting suffering but this production took violence to absurd extremes, an invented scene where the Drum Major beats Woyzeck for several minutes with a double ended dildo to the sound of S Club 7 being the most egregious example. I am still not sure whether this was just a tactless representation of the Drum Major’s virility or a bizarre homage to Kubrick’s version of A Clockwork Orange! Neither did it help when, after the play’s harrowing final scene, Nick Ashurst who played the Major re-entered still bearing the aforementioned phallus, even swinging it around a few times before taking his bow. Whilst the narrative is supposed to be bleak the length of some of the abuse scenes felt gratuitous. One of the strengths of Woyzeck on the page is its complex examination of the psychological rather than purely physical side of abuse. This production would have done well to steer clear of needless beatings and aggressive baby shaking and focus on how Woyzeck is gradually convinced by society that he is a monster.

Another peculiar decision was to replace Woyzeck’s obligation to wet shave the Captain he serves under with the requirement that he paint his toenails in the morning. I recognise that wet shaving with a straight razor is no longer common even for army officers, but surely they could think of something better than this! Why not have Woyzeck polish the captain’s boots or even trim his moustache? I cannot see any particular reason why the brutal and condescending officer was due for a metro-sexual reimagining. On the whole, Director Nick Ashurst seems so keen to adapt the play according to his tastes that he sometimes makes choices that strike this reviewer as arbitrary or just plain odd, it is perhaps no coincidence that many of these moments involve his own character, the Captain.

Such blunders are a shame because the relationship between Marie and Woyzeck was treated with great sensitivity. The ‘decency’ the captain claims Woyzeck is lacking in the very first scene is revealed to be something that is systematically stolen from him by his social superiors. Sefton’s dishevelled appearance, awkward movements and unexpected tremors constantly remind us of his character’s ongoing ordeal. Carbonari was able to plausibly communicate the mixture of disgust and remembered affection that characterises Marie’s feelings within the failing marriage. Panicked attempts to comfort her baby and a scene where she dances with a malnourished Woyzeck who struggles to stay on his feet act as a sympathetic counterweight to her adultery. The flashes of genuine affection in this strained relationship allow us to deceive ourselves into envisaging their reconciliation making it all the more affecting when this is not delivered.


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