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Review of The Woyzeck Theory at the Courtyard Theatre

The Woyzeck TheoryI’ll start at the end. This is not quite the equivalent of reading the last pages of a long novel to ascertain the final outcome, if only because the final outcome in The Woyzeck Theory is not definitive. The audience is left to decide what it is for themselves (and therefore it would be most unfair of me to offer my opinion on what the theory is), but suffice to say the question to be answered is, “What is it that makes us human?”

The production begins suddenly, and many of the scene changes come about in much the same vein, with a jarring, discordant and loud noise, which I found quite unnecessary. Sophistication, we are told by the Narrator (Emma Lane), is the key difference between the human race and the animal kingdom; later, it is asserted that there is virtually no difference now between a horse and a man, as both are being rendered obsolete by technological advances. There isn’t much that’s an open and shut case in this play, and rightly so: it gives the audience a chance to think intelligently and intelligibly about what our response should be to the challenges faced by the world in which we live.

The Doctor (also Emma Lane: she wears a white coat whenever she is in character), together with the Captain (Jordon Kemp) and the Drum Major (Michael O’Kennedy) represent the upper classes in society. The lower classes, Franz Woyzeck (Matthew Fennon, who puts in a very intense performance in the lead role) and his wife Marie (Charlotte Cracknell), are so ‘low’ they don’t even have shoes. Even when Marie is seduced by a richer man, she gets earrings, flowers and money, but remains barefoot throughout. It is a small but important distinction.

The authority of the upper classes was displayed with no subtlety – but then, superiors in the Army do bark orders at their subordinates. Rather less believable was a shouty Doctor, who threatens to withhold pay from Woyzeck, who is participating in some sort of bizarre clinical trial which involves the consumption of peas – and peas only – for each and every meal, for six weeks. Just one meal of anything other than peas means no pay. The physical and psychological impact is devastating – in a moment of literal madness, he kills his beloved. But, he points out, if he wasn’t working unreasonable hours and eating an absurd diet, he wouldn’t be so messed up.

The Woyzeck Theory tries to relate the themes of the original Woyzeck play to contemporary society, but sadly I couldn’t follow some of the show’s arguments, for two reasons. Firstly, they spoke of the box office, and broke the fourth wall to ask who had booked their tickets online. Those who could be bothered to admit so raised their hands. The box office employees, we are told, are obsolete because of the development of booking online. I don’t agree: put simply, theatres still have box office employees! Secondly, there were some points of view being made quite rapidly by the Narrator but accompanied by foot stomping that was so loud, I gave up trying to understand what on earth was being said. I also haven’t a clue why on earth the foot stomping took place at all, or its significance.

The world as a whole is more egalitarian than The Woyzeck Theory makes out. The show is not, however, completely without relevance, particularly with regard to more universal circumstances that have affected people since time immemorial. When Marie leaves Woyzeck for a man with a larger salary, we are left to ponder on a number of directly relevant issues. Is she, as Woyzeck later points out, a “backstabbing whore”? Is it Woyzeck’s fault for not earning enough to pay the bills? Or is it that the lure of living a more materialistic life was stronger than her love for him? Perhaps it is simple practicality – after all, Woyzeck and Marie had a child, and both mother and baby need to eat.

Just because I (partially) disagree with the show’s line of argument, this does not mean it isn’t a good show. Because it is. The story proceeds at a decent pace, and I am not being preached to, or even being gently nudged into thinking a certain way. The show’s strength is in asking its audiences, ‘What do you think?’ and if I hold an alternative view, the show has succeeded in its aim of asking that question. There is a feast of food for thought in this production. “What is it that we do to others that makes them the way they are?” the audience is asked. I’m still thinking about that. And if you’d like something deep to ponder on, this is the show for you.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

We are Atramental Theatre. We produce plays that reveal the truth about the UK’s social and economic climate. We will push our audiences’ imagination to the brink and back, to reveal truth. That is exactly what our new adaptation of Woyzeck does. We would like to invite you to ‘The Woyzeck Theory’. This is a modern retelling of Woyzeck, adapted and composed by our Artistic Director Rory Devlin. The show will run from the 28th July- 1st August at The Courtyard Theatre.

Creative Team:
Director : Rory Devlin
Designer: Mille Fischer Christensen
Lighting Designer: Alex Hopkins
Sound Designer: Harry Johnson
Producer: Eddie Howell

Matthew Fennon……….Woyzeck
Charlotte Cracknell……Marie
Emma Lane……..Doctor/Narrator
Jordon Kemp…..Captain
Mike O’Kennedy……Drum Major

The Courtyard Theatre:
Bowling Green Walk
40 Pitfield Street
London, N1 6EU

“Shortlisted for the Scottish Daily Mail Award 2015.”
Duration: 1 hour 30 minutes with no interval.
Courtyard Theatre: 28th July 2015 to August 1st 2015 – 7.30pm
WARNING: Strobe lighting is in use during this production and is used rapidly. Caution is advised.


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