Review: Woyzeck

Brechtian theatre both intrigues and surprises in the madness of DramaSoc’s new production

Image: Harry Elletson Photography and Design.

Venue: The Drama Barn

★★★★☆

As the first Brechtian play that I’ve watched in the Drama Barn, I was shocked at the cast’s use of direct address, the actors sat at the sides of the stage, as well as the surprising costume choices. When you get over these initial hurdles, you can sit back and enjoy the full extent of the play.

Woyzeck is difficult to master in performance; the jarringly translated language often makes for awkward acting but those in the drama barn this weekend did a great job of dealing with this problem. At the beginning of the play, when Woyzeck (Leo Jarvis) and Marie (Caitlin Burrows) first enter the stage from outside the Drama Barn, immediately you’re thrown into the atmosphere of the play in true Brechtian fashion. The choice to start at the end of the play and work back in a cyclical fashion was an interesting choice, and perhaps could have been explored further through more physical theatre but instead a dramatic scene takes place right at the beginning, and then the characters are back to normal again.

The physical theatre shown in the performance was impressive, a masterpiece to watch. I enjoyed the choreographed movements between Max Manning as the drum major and Caitlin Burrows as Marie, creating a sensual atmosphere for the audience to behold. Caitlin Burrows’ masterful way in which she showed simultaneously wanting and not wanting the drum major was clear through her facial expressions that could not be faltered throughout. Max Manning initially provided comic relief for the audience as Drum Major, a strange artistic choice for a dark character within the play, but this dark side soon became apparent when he takes Marie away from Woyzeck.

Despite the hard work gone into the choreography for this play, sometimes the physical theatre seemed a little bit under-rehearsed, as if the company weren’t putting their all into it. This sometimes led to problems with pacing, and further choices to put in dramatic pauses sometimes made it seem like actors had forgotten their lines in places and harmed the overall pace of the play. There were also times when despite this being a very ensemble based piece, that there wasn’t a sense of togetherness between them and the transitions between scenes.

The crew for Woyzeck cannot go underappreciated as the use of light, sound and projections during this play were incredible, and was one of its defining features. The use of projection of videos of the cast performing all in black, spliced with videos of Trump, hospital wards and war really let the audience into the chaos in Woyzeck’s mind. By using videos of political debates, it really helped to bring this play to life in the current political climate. The repeated use of a video of Drum major and Marie embracing one another really worked to show his jealousy inside him. The sound underpinned the whole play, something that I thought I would find frustrating at the beginning became one of my favourite elements of the play. The sound started off quiet at the beginning, and built in noise; oftentimes Woyzeck would go and stand at the edge of the stage, near to the speakers, while the sounds of guns and war played in the background – an interesting way of presenting his possible PTSD. Lighting was key: their use of gobos at the end to represent water was a subtle way of doing so, and one that worked entirely.

Leo Jarvis captured Woyzeck’s madness well, but I felt that the character needed more build up to the madness – Woyzeck tended to stay on the same level throughout the play. Even in the final scenes, I didn’t feel there was the right level of craziness and insanity seen in Woyzeck to show what he was going through. His choice of shadow gesture felt obvious and forced; while being in the Brechtian style of gestus, it didn’t work for me.

Exploring a Brechtian play is never an easy task, but the cast and crew of Woyzeck did an impressive job at managing it. I admire their choice to do so, and think that despite problems with pacing as well as some artistic choices that I may disagree with, the thought that went into this play cannot be undermined, and the way in which they have rejuvenated it for a modern audience cannot be ignored.

2 comments

  1. That was a really bad review. Instead of overusing “Brechtian”, how about mentioning the play’s author? And why is a play, written in the 19th century widely regarded as the first truly “modern” drama?

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    • Hey, sorry you didn’t like the review! If you know a lot about theatre and you’d like to do reviews for Dramasoc productions yourself, we’re always happy to have new writers.

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