Woyzeck Splendid Productions Gilded Balloon

There is audience engagement as soon as we enter – three white faced actors roam around the room welcoming us, engaging us in conversation, passing us notes which we are exhorted to pass along our neighbours “to start a rumour”. It is all part of the story as we will find out later and it helps to engage our attention from the outset.

Woyzeck is loosely based on a true story and is an unfinished work written in 1836 by Georg Buchner which has since become a classic of German and world theatre. It tells the story of lowly soldier Franz Woyzeck who, already struggling to support his partner and child and struggling to survive the dehumanising effects of army life, agrees to take part in military medical experiments to earn more money. It tips him over the edge into a spiral of jealousy, passion and paranoia which ultimately leads to the murder of his lover. Heavy stuff which could lead to some quite dark and depressing theatre going, but this talented trio of actors manage to tell the story in a very different way with a mix of slapstick comedy and song as well as tragedy and pathos.

The full story is gradually revealed to us through a literally random sequence of scenes – the scene number and title is announced and displayed on a board at the side of the stage. We start with the murder of Marie – Chapter 19, The Death of a Woman, and then work backwards and forwards to explain the events leading to this tragic outcome and its aftermath.

Kerry Frampton and Jimmy Whiteaker take on multiple roles with Scott Smith as Woyzeck and all three are excellent, able to move effortlessly from comedy to tragedy and able to get us all involved, making us complicit in the act. By joining in the chorus of Stab the Bitch Dead, we find that we are the voices in Woyzeck’s head encouraging him to do the deed.

If your only experience of Woyzeck has been through school or college drama productions, then don’t be put off – this is a very different interpretation which entertains as well as engages the emotions. Well worth a look.

Irene Brownlee