Woyzeck @ Barbican Theatre, London

cast list
Ingvar E Sigursson
Nina Dgg Filippusdttir
Vikingur Kristjnsson
Harpa Arnarsdttir
Bjrn Hlynur Haraldsson
lafur Egil Egilsson
Arni Petur Gudjnsson
Erlendur Eiriksson
lafur Darri Olafsson
Jhannes Niels Sigurdsson

directed by
Gisli rn Gardarsson
Water abounds in Vesturport Theatre’s gleefully physical staging of Georg Buchner’s tragic and fragmented play. It streams from the ceiling, it fills tanks upon the stage and, in the production’s final moments, it provides the means for the violent demise of one of the characters.

The Reykjavik-based company are enamoured with the idea of creating theatre without safety nets. Literally, in some cases, given the clear influence of circus techniques in much of their work. In the UK, they’re probably best known for their acclaimed aerialist take on Romeo And Juliet. A massive hit at the Young Vic, it transferred successfully to the West End.

Their unique version of Woyzeck is equally visually innovative. First staged at the Barbican as part of last year’s Young Genius season, Gisli rn Gardarsson’s production overflows with ideas, set-piece following set piece.

The play itself, the story of a disturbed man who murders his unfaithful lover, was written in 1837, shortly before Buchner died of typhus, aged 23. It was never fully completed and, as such, it is inevitably fragmented in structure, but despite its unfinished nature, it is hailed as masterpiece of expressionist theatre, years ahead of its time. Vesturport’s response to this radical work is to overload it with striking imagery, in a production that somehow manages to reference everything from Snow White to The Matrix and, in one key scene, even evoking Radiohead’s iconic video for No Surprises.

There’s some truly amazing moments in this show. In one scene Bjrn Hlynur Haraldsson’s Drum Major descends from the ceiling of the Barbican Theatre on a rope swing, singing whilst hanging upside down as black-suited backing-singers stomp on the stage. Nick Cave and, fellow Bad Seed, Warren Ellis have provided the soundtrack for the piece and the songs are as dark and grandiose as one would expect from Cave, fuelling the tortured narrative.

Gardarsson (as an actor, one of the chief pleasures in Kneehigh’s wonderful Nights At The Circus) has set the play in an eerie industrial landscape, a muddle of machine and nature, metal water pipes rising from the turf. Some of this greenery is later stripped away to reveal the water tank where Woyzeck’s girlfriend Marie (Nina Dgg Filippusdttir) allows herself to be seduced by the charismatic Drum Major. It is also later the site of Woyzeck’s pained and traumatic revenge.

This production crams more in to its ninety minutes than many longer shows manage. Unfortunately with so much going on it is very easy to get lost, to be distracted by the midair acrobatics and the giant inflatable globes, especially if you have only a cursory knowledge of the text. Matters aren’t helped by the heavily accented delivery of some of the cast. There’s a lot from this production that will stay with me, not least the disturbing final scenes, but amid the music and the lights, the genius of Buchner’s last work failed to make an impression.

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