The annual German play at King’s College London has been a tradition for over fifty years. The German Society’s production of Woyzeck had a lot to live up to, and with a blend of sensitive acting and collaborative efforts behind the scenes, it managed to do so, with both flair and confidence.
Woyzeck portrays the life of a young soldier, who increasingly becomes a slave to his declining mental health. Swayed by the moralistic ramblings of his captain, he battles his demons in plain sight, lashing out at friends, falling into paranoid delusions and, eventually, murdering his partner out of jealousy. Written by Georg Büchner, the play was left incomplete at the time of the writer’s death, leaving the ending open to interpretation. The play is often described as both a tragedy of the working-class and the state of all-consuming human jealousy. The original music written for the play created an atmospheres of joviality at points, before plunging into an ominous dirge.
A stand out performance came from Beke Wiese, whose portrayal of the captain gave the show a confident starting note – her careful mix of humour and authority drawing the curtain up with one flick of a razor. Josef Stätder also brought a dose of dark humour to his role as the doctor, whilst still being able to demonstrate to the audience the dehumanising attitude of doctors towards their patients in this piece. Swinging a ‘dead cat’ above his head with relish was a highlight. Bringing contrast to the portrayals of the characters, Victoria Hazebrouck’s sensitive depiction of Marie was tinged with nuance, showing, despite time constraints, a satisfying struggle within her character between two polarising moralities. Her song to her child and the internal monologues themselves were particularly haunting, making Marie arguably the most sympathetic character of the show, removed from all the madness and depicting the fragility of the human nature. Samyak Pandey’s portrayal of Woyzeck is at once intense and moving. His descent into madness is perversely fascinating to watch. However, a gentler introduction to the character’s psyche might have been nice to see, so the audience would see the mental corruption of a once stable solider go from a neutral to a truly chaotic state. Also of note is Victoria Baines’ portrayal of the drum major, her performance as the swaggering rival is both amusing and overpowering in its aggression.
The utilisation of the space was impressive, with its arrangement being a vital part of the play’s success. Each nook and cranny of the Anatomy Museum had been filled with props to create an immersive atmosphere. The placement of the subtitles on a stationary piece of cloth pinned at an angle where most of the audience could direct their gaze was also a clever stroke, as the Anatomy Museum provided various difficulties in allowing the audience to view each and every aspect of the performance. Timothy Choi’s technical set up and lighting was, once again, integral to the performance, with mood lighting enhancing scenes; for example when Woyzeck commits a murder, the whole of the stage and balcony is bathed in a blood red light.
There were some jarring transitions, perhaps due to time constraints, where some scenes jumped a little too quickly from scenario to scenario, resulting in some confusion for a few members of the audience. However, the vignette style of some of the scenes (for example, the scene in which Woyzeck is involved in a pub brawl, and the doctor passes by only to comment and usher in the next scene) were fantastic, producing an almost cinematic structure to the play as well as aiding the speed and pace.
One slightly questionable aspect of the play was the ending, in which Woyzeck drowns. Although this is the common ending for most productions of the play, one cannot help but wonder if the cast members leaning over Woyzeck so as to mimic a wave is the best way to stage his death. After all of the intensity within the play, this physical manifestation of the wave ends up being a little underwhelming. With such an outstanding technical team, it would have been interesting to see the death staged with the use of lighting and soundscape, perhaps.
Nevertheless, cutting the play down from a typical 120 minutes to 50 minutes was a wise decision on behalf of the production crew – not only for practical reasons, but also so as to condense the action of the plot and allow it have its potent impact. Overall, this production of Woyzeck is deliciously intense and nicely translated in both subtitles and in the dramatic form. It is a worthy successor to previous productions by the German Society.
Edited by Evangeline Stanford, Digital Editor