Review: “Powerful, yet perplexing” ★★★ Woyzeck, The Old Vic Theatre

In tackling George Büchner’s famously unfinished play, Jack Thorne set himself a difficult task. The playwright is no stranger to taking on tricky adaptations however, having recently scored huge success by collaborating with J.K. Rowling to bring Harry Potter and the Cursed Child to the London Stage, winning an Olivier Award for his efforts.

For his reworked version of Woyzeck, Thorne has chosen to set the disturbing tale in 1980s Berlin amidst the claustrophobic confines of the Cold War and with John Boyega taking on the titular role, the play becomes an interesting insight into the world of a vulnerable young man striving for betterment.

Sarah Greene and John Boyega in Woyzeck at the Old Vic

Boyega, who rose to fame after playing lovable Stormtrooper Finn in one of the most recent Star Wars films, is a good fit as the troubled young squaddie, whose childhood demons return to haunt him. Struggling to provide financial support for his partner Marie (played with great fervour by Sarah Greene), Woyzeck’s insecurities and traumatic upbringing eventually lead to a demise in his mental state.

It’s bizarre stuff and you might miss some of the hints as to what is to come within the nightmarish alternate existences. In framing the action with enormous moving chunks of wall insulation, Tom Scutt’s dynamic set adds further misperception to the seemingly ordered universe but it becomes an accomplice to Boyega by the end of act one, when the audience is left in no doubt that this tormented soul will further decline into a state of madness.

It’s a powerful performance by Boyega, despite Joe Murphy directing a display of so many stereotypical traits including foaming at the mouth and sudden outbursts of rage. The subtleties of his paranoia are well executed however, and you can’t help but fall in love with the doe-eyed dote and hope his impending demise will be halted

The undertones of the classist system within the British Army are also well presented, with the excellent Steffan Rhodri and his plummy accent making it clear who has the upper hand, while his nymphomaniac wife (Nancy Carroll) glories in her freedom and wealth, with no care for those living in poverty.

Powerful, yet perplexing, this Woyzeck isn’t a classic, but is nevertheless, a thought-provoking comment on the forgotten factions of modern society.

Woyzeck is at the Old Vic Theatre until 24 June

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