Sunday, 16 August 2009

Woyzeck - Splendid Productions, Edinburgh Fringe

Woyzeck by Büchner
Director: Mal Smith
Reviewer: Deborah Klayman
Fringe Rating: Five Stars

Splendid Productions have acheived the impossible – they’ve made Woyzeck fun! This innovative production takes Büchner’s classic text and put a new spin on it, throwing out the notion that a play should be shown in chronological order, and instead presenting the 24 acts in different styles and order, even repeating one (Scene 18) three times, to great effect.

As the audience enters, the white-faced performers chat to them, asking for show recommendations, bantering, and generally setting them at ease. A variety of instruments are being played, and many more sit at the sides, with only a metal frame with cloth for a set, and an easle stage right to display the titles and numbers of each scene. The three-strong cast of Scott Smith (Woyzeck), Kerry Frampton (Marie) and Mal Smith (Drum Major) are confident and welcoming, and you know you are in for a treat.

Based on true events, the play tells the story of Woyzeck: an impoverished soldier who agrees to be amateur barber to his captain and a ginea-pig for medical experiements in order to support his girlfriend (Marie) and their child. Overwraught and paranoid, Woyzeck begins to hear voices, and when he learns Marie has betrayed him through an affair with the Drum Major, murders her.

With a strong mix of comedy, mime, and music, Splendid Productions’ excellent actors disect the story, beginning with the murder then working their way through the causes for it. Multifaceted, hilarious moments such as the song in ‘Scene 12 - Stab the Bitch Dead’, which the audience joins in with, take a more sinister turn as Woyzeck responds: “Alright, I will”, leaving us to realise we represent the voices in his head and have just set him on his murderous mission.

The mime elements of the show are particularly strong, and beautifully understated. There is comic gold in ‘Scene 14 – A Fight’, when the Drum Major completes Woyzeck’s total humiliation by beating him up. It is presented through mime, movement and sound, with each punch, kick and groan orchestrated – simply superb slapstick!

In addition to the comedy and amazing physicality of the performance, at the core is really good acting. Woyzeck is presented as a sympathetic sort of killer; a man who thinks far too much, and is overwhelmed by the world. Marie, worn down by his morbid philosophising, is drawn to the confident, pompous Drum Major, a man who can offer her an escape from her dreary existance. Woyzeck’s heartfelt sorrow in ‘Scene 8: No She Wouldn’t, Yes She Did’ is palpable, and Marie’s emotive line “I would rather a knife in my body than your hand on mine” both crushes him further and foreshadows her death.

All in all this is an exceptional show - bold, accessible and entertaining. Mal Smith, in the dual role of Director and Actor, is a pleasure to watch; and both Scott Smith and Kerry Frampton showcase their obvious talent and passion. I await the company’s next production of Faustus with baited breath.

Pleasance Courtyard, 5-16 Aug, 2:00pm (3:00pm), prices vary.
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