** (2 Stars)
Lyric, Hammersmith - 21 October, 2013
David Harrower’s new production of Woyzeck playing at the Lyric, Hammersmith has you feeling delightfully uncomfortable from the off set. With a visceral opening representing the dog-eat-dog nature of Buchner’s social play, the company of nine quickly immerse you in the unrelenting nature of the play by viciously fighting over dog bowls! Crazy I know, however, this production certainly does not pull back its punches making a bold statement from the get go.
However, this “bold statement” seemed to be a hinderance rather than help as the production went on. Written in 1839, Woyzeck tells the tale of a soldier who works tirelessly to try and support his family whilst constantly being tormented by his superiors. Because of this, Woyzeck becomes more and more alienated as the play progresses, which leads him to destruction.
The empty nature of the minimalist set coupled with the auditorium being covered in clear plastic gives the feel of an abandoned theatre. Hyemi Shin’s stripped back set design, which uses a colour palate consisting of black and green, is cleverly juxtaposed against the grandeur of the Lyric. This reflects how Woyzeck, a lowly working class soldier, is surrounded by upper-class tormentors. This updated version of Buchner’s play used interesting sound effects throughout at main points, which were used to highlight Woyzeck's mental deterioration throughout the performance. For example, whenever Woyzeck seemed to be confused or he had reached a critical turning point in the story you would hear the faint sound of a helicopter. I felt that this became quite tedious at times as you were focussing on the mosquito like noise of the helicopter instead of the words Woyzeck was actually saying.
The play certainly pushes its actors to their limits, with stunts including aerial work and intensely physical movement scenes you can't help but appreciate the stamina of the cast as a whole. However I did find myself confused at points as I personally didn’t feel that the lead was or ever had been a soldier. Apart from the odd salute there was nothing else in his demeanor that indicated he served in the army. Furthermore, I feel as though the casting contradicted the context of the play. For example, the dynamic between the Drum Major and Woyzeck is that he makes him feel like less of a man. However, the Drum Major was played by a woman, and this was in fact highlighted as he groped her breasts which provoked laughter from the audience. As funny as this was this concept didn’t lend itself well to the clarity of the piece.
The play made some bold statements, especially from the beginning, but this didn’t seem to aid the actual storyline of the play. Woyzeck in itself is hard enough to understand without some sort of background knowledge, however at times it felt as though the production was being abstract and weird for the sake of it without aiding the development of the story - making it even harder for younger audiences to understand the characters journey.
Show 1 of Secret Theatre is showing at The Lyric, Hammersmith until 9 November 2013. Tickets available here: http://www.lyric.co.uk/whats-on/production/secret-theatre/