Woyzeck by Georg Buchner is one of the best loved German tragedy of the dramatic canon. In particular it is a favourite amongst directors, perhaps because of it’s inherent “tragic story” as a text- it allows itself to be a vehicle for directors keen for new interpretations. Woyzeck was written by Buchner when he was only 23 years old and when he died that year, he left behind an unfinished draft. The script was later adopted by Karl Franzos and finished. Because of this combined authorship- or perhaps the origins of the story as a creative dramatisation inspired by actual events- it seems that directors most keen to make their mark, favour the text as a vehicle for their vision.

In this production we start in the foyer of the theatre- mandolin plucked and struck, a saxophone gleams under a string of lights under a red foyer… before long we are heralded and coralled by a shirtless man – soon we watch as dancers dance and move within a white chalk lined circle. We are then encouraged into the downstairs theatre. We talk our seats…

The story of Woyzeck is that of a poor soldier , who lives with his love Marie and their child- which born a bastard is an unfortunate. In order to supplement his income, Woyzeck submits himself to scientific experiments which has a profound effect on his physical and mental disposition. Needless to say, it doesn’t end happily for Woyzeck and Marie- it is after all, a tragedy.

Assembled in the downstairs space director, Netta Yashchin harnesses the talents of eleven cast members (Fayssal Bazzi, Gig Clarke, Yure Covich, Anthony Hunt, Rebecca Johnston, Jessica Joseph-McDermott, Rory Nagle-Runciman, Zahra Newman, Megan O’Connell, Michael Pigott and Rachel Weiner), a crew and creative team of twelve. Dancers, live musicians, actors coming together to create a world of sexy, physical, embodied people- people driven by lust. Designer David Fleischer has kept the design very simple- and he has to with that quantity of cast on stage and is complimented by lights by Ross Graham- who knows how to create an intriguing series of rock’n’roll style states to drive and set mood. Unfortunately no choreographer is credited for what appears to be a huge amount of diverse and intense work- but perhaps this is what is being referred to as a part of the “collaborative creation of Buchner’s work”.

Yaschin’s director’s note goes a long way into the ideas of the play- and the very essence of cultural identity and personal connection to the play… and much of the note seems to be a general manifesto about theatre and physicalisation of text- perhaps this is the start to a new Yashchin ensemble? At times I wanted the whole piece to abandon the text- and for it to be a sequence of songs and physical images- t seemed the verbal story was slowing down the production.

The production itself is stuffed full of pop references, visual ideas, a multiplicity of styles, costumes range from literal to anachronistic, stylised and absolutely absurd (there was one section where I was utterly distracted by a pair of rather large fake breasts and failed to pay attention to what was actually being said). It contains a feeling of circus, burlesque, physical theatre, arena spectacular, rave, installation, ballet, sultry cabaret, UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship), speakeasy…. It has it all. And yet, I was nearly completely disengaged with the story. So crowded with effect and style, I became distracted and therefore lost, story wise. Luckily the sturdy and very clear, consistent performance by Michael Pigott anchored the circus surrounding the story sufficiently for me to follow some of the action and the story. Pigott’s performance is spectacular and focused. We truly believe Woyzeck is the unlikely hero and the unfortunate victim of circumstance and poverty. His grounded and honest portrayal is very real in a strange and bizarre context…

It seems to me that Yashchin has poured all her ideas into this one story… and it seems to me that her epic style needs a large space, a large budget and a big play. There is nothing tender, small or meek about Yashchin’s production of Woyzeck. If you are looking for a saucy, non-top assault of ideas and images and if you know the story and the play already- this is the production for you. I guarantee you will be fascinated by what following a director’s creative “gut” can yield. For me it was such an assault, I sort of turned off… I was being shown lots … lots of big ideas, lots of music- lots of flesh, and sexual writhing- which didn’t do much but distract me. Was that the point?

Please, Someone give Yashchin a huge theatre- and a big text to direct- and a cast of fifty. I reckon she’s got it in her to do grand things- I’m just not sure this was the venue or the text best suited for those ideas to be housed… but I look forward to seeing what she comes up with next.