We are on a roll. A seedy, sexually exploitative, and violent roll.
Close observers of the challenge may remember that Woyzeck appeared on the schedule of ‘found’ plays very early on, then disappeared from the list.
Let me explain why.
After successfully auditioning for a role in an amateur production, a friend of mine invited some family and friends, including me, to watch when it came around to opening night.
In between time, said friend read the rest of the play and decided she would feel rather uncomfortable performing some of the material in front of people she would have to look in the eye.
This was a very wise decision.
Billington described Woyzeck as a “bleeding torso left incomplete by Buchner’s death” at the age of 23. In place a definitive version of the text, we have 24 scenes of various length which broadly tell the story of a young soldier tormented by his own demons and the cruelties of society, who murders his own wife.
The incompleteness of the play leaves it open to constant reinterpretation. To draw on Billington again, it has “been claimed by everyone” and “provides open season for experimental directors”. Indeed, the Old Vic gave almost equal billing to its director as to its star. The posters boasted of John Boyega in the title role “in a new version by Jack Thorne.”
Boyega played his part well, spanning the spectrum from terrifying rage and babbling insanity at one extreme, through street philosopher in the scenes with his senior officer, all the way to sweet-hearted young lover trying to keep hold of his wife as much as his own mind.
The problem with the production as a whole was that there were so shocking moments, they started to lose impact. A scene of Woyzeck being abused mentally as a child is shortly followed by one in which he was the subject of medical experimentation (also featuring animal cruelty) as an adult.
We have full-front male nudity (oddly, I have now seen the same actor naked twice and this is only play 22 – if things continue at the same rate by the time I’ve seen all 101…), domestic violence, drug abuse, implied threat against a baby in a cot and, of course, the murder of Marie.
Theatre should always have the power to disturb, to make things strange you are forced to look at things again. Woyzeck sought to shock with almost every scene, I was rather inured to the effect by the end and unlike The Goat or The Homecoming have given the play little thought since.