A pretty splendid production from Splendid Productions. Ashen-faced, scarlet-cheeked and elegantly-waistcoated, the three cast members jovially escort you to your seat and engage you with charming pleasantries.
Then the show begins with a banging of drums and they become a very sort-of roll-up, roll-up theatrical troop. Appropriately, given how this, Georg Buchner's unfinished work was discovered - as a mixed up collection of pages - it isn't performed in chronological order. This creates confusion initially and cohesion later on; by commencing with the brutal murder scene, it becomes more effective than typical constructions.
Particularly magnificent was the actress Kerry Frampton who played three very different characters; my special favourite was her portrayal of the captain which amused me endlessly. Vibrant and vivacious theatre!
Georg Büchner's seminal play Woyzeck is given a bizarre and beautiful turn by Splendid Productions. Opting to clear up the dubious problems of the uncompleted manuscript by presenting the entire work as a series of non-chronological vignettes interspersed with vaudevillian musical medleys and cheerful chirping, the company have created what has to rank as one of the most colourful and intelligent interpretations of the work since Tom Waits and Robert Wilson go their hands on it.
Rather than dryly play out the admittedly dull story, they instead make light out of hammering out the meat of the play with a deft accompaniment of percussion and some excellent singing; including a moment of inspired lunacy in encouraging the entire audience to sing along with a musical rendition of the line "Stab, Stab, Stab the bitch dead."
As well as subverting the usual interpretations, Splendid tear down the flimsy pretence of comedy subtly throughout the play as Woyzeck continually wears away his greasepaint from a clownish palid face replete with rosy cheeks to the grim harrowed face of a madman consumed by his guilt. The repetition of the fatalistic murder scene never ceases to be harrowing and seems to change in meaning throughout and gain resonance from the surrounding scenes no matter how anachronistic.
For those looking for something intelligent and different, you couldn't go far wrong with this production and those who think they know Woyzeck should see how it appears after seeing it from a new angle.
Splendid Productions have acheived the impossible – they’ve made Woyzeck fun! This innovative production takes Büchner’s classic text and put a new spin on it, throwing out the notion that a play should be shown in chronological order, and instead presenting the 24 acts in different styles and order, even repeating one (Scene 18) three times, to great effect.
As the audience enters, the white-faced performers chat to them, asking for show recommendations, bantering, and generally setting them at ease. A variety of instruments are being played, and many more sit at the sides, with only a metal frame with cloth for a set, and an easel stage right to display the titles and numbers of each scene. The three-strong cast of Scott Smith (Woyzeck), Kerry Frampton (Marie) and Mal Smith (Drum Major) are confident and welcoming, and you know you are in for a treat.
Based on true events, the play tells the story of Woyzeck: an impoverished soldier who agrees to be amateur barber to his captain and a ginea-pig for medical experiements in order to support his girlfriend (Marie) and their child. Overwraught and paranoid, Woyzeck begins to hear voices, and when he learns Marie has betrayed him through an affair with the Drum Major, murders her.
With a strong mix of comedy, mime, and music, Splendid Productions’ excellent actors disect the story, beginning with the murder then working their way through the causes for it. Multifaceted, hilarious moments such as the song in ‘Scene 12 - Stab the Bitch Dead’, which the audience joins in with, take a more sinister turn as Woyzeck responds: “Alright, I will”, leaving us to realise we represent the voices in his head and have just set him on his murderous mission.
The mime elements of the show are particularly strong, and beautifully understated. There is comic gold in ‘Scene 14 – A Fight’, when the Drum Major completes Woyzeck’s total humiliation by beating him up. It is presented through mime, movement and sound, with each punch, kick and groan orchestrated – simply superb slapstick!
In addition to the comedy and amazing physicality of the performance, at the core is really good acting. Woyzeck is presented as a sympathetic sort of killer; a man who thinks far too much, and is overwhelmed by the world. Marie, worn down by his morbid philosophising, is drawn to the confident, pompous Drum Major, a man who can offer her an escape from her dreary existance. Woyzeck’s heartfelt sorrow in ‘Scene 8: No She Wouldn’t, Yes She Did’ is palpable, and Marie’s emotive line “I would rather a knife in my body than your hand on mine” both crushes him further and foreshadows her death.
All in all this is an exceptional show - bold, accessible and entertaining. Mal Smith, in the dual role of Director and Actor, is a pleasure to watch; and both Scott Smith and Kerry Frampton showcase their obvious talent and passion. I await the company’s next production of Faustus with baited breath.
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.
It’s almost impossible for a theatre company not to put its personal stamp on Georg Buchner’s Woyzeck, his play about a hapless soldier out of joint with the world.
Originally conceived as a series of short scenes and bequeathed to posterity in 1837 as a fragment when Buchner died of typhoid at 23, the invitation to personal rendition is almost built in.
But any liberties taken, such as shuffling the scenes before presentation and even repeating them – in this case, Woyzeck’s brutal murder of his common-law wife Marie is performed more than once – are invariably acts of homage to the originator of expressionist drama.
Woyzeck does not evolve like a traditional play. It is a cinematic mixture of events, though lacking traditional cinema’s rigid and commercial dependence on a beginning, a middle and an end.
In this production the scenes are announced on cards in music-hall fashion and the cast of three (Scott Smith in the lead role, Alasdair Shanks and Kerry Frampton), playing eight characters with bravura, convey the double whammy of being irrational in a crazy world.
London-based Splendid, which specialises in political theatre aimed at young people, give it their all under directors Mal Smith and Lucy Cuthbertson, acting in the spirit as well as the literal sense of both the events depicted and their moral implications.
They use minimal props creatively and there is exactly the right degree of momentum and interaction with the audience.
Strolling players at a brisk pace, as it were.