An Immersive World War Woyzeck

Woyzeck at the Redbridge Drama Centre

Directed by Kelly Taylor-Smith and Katharine Hurst

4 stars

This week we headed out to the wilds of South Woodford for Scene Productions’ interpretation of Georg Büchner’s Woyzeck. The play tells the story of jealousy, betrayal, and the manipulation of man at the hands of others. It is a dark and tragic story, and one which is challenging to pull off in even the most basic of formats. Scene Productions’ adaptation is done as immersive (or site-specific) theatre, and their Woyzeck is set in England both during (via flashbacks) and after the First World War.

It’s an ambitious premise; but don’t be put off by the challenge – this is an extremely well done, professional, and clever production.

It excels on almost every level – the cast are well-chosen and switch with ease between the emotionally harrowing parts and genuinely funny scenes. The immersive world which has been created is thorough and complete everywhere you turn.

The evening starts with a quick walk away from the safe and comforting waiting area and café. The audience are lead into a dark hallway which is built to look like a trench passage. Uneven boards line the floor, the air hangs heavy with the rich smell of lamp oil, and injured soldiers pass us while screaming from the brutality of their injuries.

The show takes place over three rooms; a set of rustic and uneven wood with crates for accessories plays the role of homestead, First World War trench, doctor’s office and also village pub. We travel with leading couple Woyzeck and Marie to a lively fun fair in another location, with old-school games and prizes to be won, and finally head “out” to a purpose built forest for a chilling finale.

The rooms are perfectly done to create the worlds needed in each case. There is a lot of creative work that has gone into how to adapt each set to create not just practical use, but also to create some rather beautiful moments. The approach to the child is wonderful – sweet, heartwarming, and really amusing – and there’s a certain choreography to much of the actors’ movements which also creates beauty in such a dark and tragic tale.

The water at the end is a stunning visual, and is a brilliant way of not just solving the issue of not having a readily available river to swim in, but of enhancing the final scene, and allowing it to grow into a truly breathtaking finale.

The subject matter is heavy – the scenes in which the doctor puts Woyzeck through his paces and takes glee in his demise are tough to watch, as are the opening scenes, when medics are attempting to rescue an injured solider as heavy artillery noise rolls overhead. The cast takes the difficult scenes in their stride, and they bring each character to life with grace and competence. Mark Rush’s Woyzeck is a man haunted by being used as a weapon – firstly from fighting in a war and secondly from a doctor’s unethical experiments. Katharine Hurst as Marie draws the audience’s sympathy for her situation – there are no winners here – and Mark Morgan does well to switch from role to role (Drum Major, Andres, and the Doctor) and is delightful in the roles which involve a bullish sense of self-confidence.

The production lets itself down a bit with the fairly amateurish opening – which relies mostly on scare tactics to set the scene— but by the time the audience walk down the hallway for the final time, the change in atmosphere is akin to a work of art—and the final scene will stay with you long after you leave.

If you’re in the area; go see this. If you’re not in the area, get out your Oyster Card and get your skates on– trust me, you don’t want to miss this one.

Woyzeck is running at the Redbridge Drama Centre until October 22nd. You can find out how to buy tickets here.

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