Leo Butler, Roxana Silbert and Rosie Kay – Woyzeck – Birmingham

<I>Woyzeck</I>: Thomas Pickles surrounded by the community ensemble.<br />© Graeme Braidwood. (Click image for larger version)

Woyzeck: Thomas Pickles surrounded by the community ensemble.
© Graeme Braidwood. (Click image for larger version)

Leo Butler, Roxana Silbert and Rosie Kay
Woyzeck

★★★✰✰
Birmingham, Repertory Theatre
19 June 2018
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leo_Butler
rosiekay.co.uk
www.birmingham-rep.co.uk

As Woyzeck productions go this was rather different, featuring just two professional actors supported by a community company of over 80 who supplied the other named roles but for the most part super-colourful reality and dancing. For me, it’s their show and the big reason to see the staging.
 

Woyzeck community cast Amir Ali as Showman and Richella McPherson as Robot.© Graeme Braidwood. (Click image for larger version)

Woyzeck community cast Amir Ali as Showman and Richella McPherson as Robot.
© Graeme Braidwood. (Click image for larger version)

There is no standard version of Woyzeck, Georg Buchner’s unfinished play (from the mid-nineteenth century) about an ill-used soldier’s steady descent into jealous madness and the murder of his common-law wife. Director Leo Butler’s resets the action in the current day in a post-conflict war-torn town (terrific sets from Neil Murray) with mobile phones, military drones and a community making the best of its lot – in such a world some rise, and some sink. Woyzeck (Thomas Pickles), sounding a lot like Johnny Vegas (with all the confused and rambling approach to dialogue that conjures), despite being an army barber is probably suffering Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) from his soldiering made worse by volunteering for strange medical experiments, involving eating many peas, to earn money. To make matters worse, Marie, the mother of his child, is fancied by the good-looking Drum Major. She is much flattered, probably unfaithful but not untrue in her love for Woyzeck who in a fit of rage kills her, before rowing out to sea to presumably meet his maker, if that is never totally clear in the plot. Although much of the action is clear the otherwise excellent programme doesn’t have a synopsis of the plot – a silly decision if consciously made.
 

Thomas Pickles as Woyzeck & Jalleh Alizadeh as Marie.© Graeme Braidwood. (Click image for larger version)

Thomas Pickles as Woyzeck & Jalleh Alizadeh as Marie.
© Graeme Braidwood. (Click image for larger version)

The dialogue between the two professional actors is easily heard, but elsewhere one could struggle to hear all the words – if the surtitles helped. The script can be sharp and fun – I just love the banter between the town’s girls and the strutting soldiers and other eligible men. There is real fire, passion and common earthiness in it: the flirting of real life by real people. The company cast are the star whenever they are on for street scenes and partying with salsa, bhangra, stilt walkers and many others, and range in age right up to ancient (forgive me) whose version of dad-dancing is just too delicious. But everywhere you look on stage there is natural but bold action – Rosie Kay enables people to be themselves and yet melds them into a satisfying and shimmeringly energetic corps. The sum is way greater than the parts.
 

Woyzeck community ensemble.© Graeme Braidwood. (Click image for larger version)

Woyzeck community ensemble.
© Graeme Braidwood. (Click image for larger version)

The decent of Woyzeck is charted, but the stabbing of Marie still seemed to come rather too soon – I didn’t feel I’d seen a man truly driven to it and all-consumed in deranged bitterness. But once done the central drama moves to another level with Woyzeck’s grief, and as he paddles out to sea the community promenade past in their instinctive majesty and sorrow. The crowd, so long associated with fun and camaraderie, bring it all together and make you care – the pain of individuals is a tragic thing, but a community coming back out of the tragedy of war is a mightier thing. It really is their show.
 
 

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