Woyzeck at the Old Vic: Reviewed

Often referred to as the first working-class tragedy  ‘Woyzeck’ centres around a poverty stricken soldier, his partner Marie and their illegitimate child.

In the attempt to earn enough money to support his family Woyzeck is left with no option but to perform a number of degrading tasks for his Captain and take part in dangerous clinical trials for the Doctor. This combined with an all consuming jealousy at his common-law wife’s infidelity drives him to insanity.

Manual Harlan
Credit: Maual Harlan

Jack Thorne’s retelling is not completely unrecognisable from Buchners, for example Woyzeck is still a working class soldier battling with his social standing and the limitations that it presents him.

There is a great deal of extra pressures layered onto him in this staging and at times I wonder how John Boyega’s ‘Woyzeck’ even has the will to go on living with all that Thorne has thrown upon him.

Manual Harlan 2
Credit: Maual Harlan

I think the answer to this is Boyega himself who seems to have the force and power both physically and mentally to be able to punch his way through this testing play.

He’s the man on the advertising, he’s the man with the recently released Star Wars film and he’s undoubtedly the man at the top of the honours role for this play.

Starting of slowly he takes blow after blow (both literal and metaphorical) until though his body attempts to fight on his mind folds under the pressure. Boyegas decline into madness is incredible to watch a true masterclass in acting. Both painful, disturbing and utterly captivating I cannot commend him enough for it.

Manual Harlan 3
Credit: Maual Harlan

Opposite Boyega is Sarah Greene who’s ‘Marie’ has found itself greatly expanded and somewhat softened in this version. A catholic girl who became pregnant out of wedlock she ran away to war with Woyzeck only to find herself trapped in a troubled relationship. Greene brings a real delicacy to ‘Marie’ enabling us to view her in a way in which the original does not.

While I congratulate Thorne on his attempt to turn this classic into a more accessible and often humorous play. At times I feel that perhaps it does a little too much explaining of Woyzeck’s woes, thereby removing the need and desire for us to use our own imaginations which is one of the things I love most about the original.

*Woyzeck is running at The Old Vic until 24th June and you can find tickets here







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