“Us lot don’t have a chance in this world or the next; if we ever got to heaven I reckon we’d have to help with the thunder.”
As someone who can often be found holding picnics in graveyards, the news that the Oneohone Theatre Company would be holding their performance of Georg Buchner’s unfinished masterpiece Woyzeck within the crypts of St. Andrew’s Church was incredibly exciting. I must admit that I was also intrigued by the idea of what has become known as a working class tragedy being performed by a group of Oxford graduates, although this does in fact point to a wider issue within the arts in general and should in no way reflect upon what is above all a unique and memorable performance of a play that has spawned numerous adaptations.
In fact the venue of Woyzeck is a mixed blessing, at times a great aid to the performance and at others a hindrance. The performers race amongst the rooms of the crypts, separated by arch ways, and in doing so capture the fragmented nature of the play within its gloomy whole. The sheer claustrophobia of the space also becomes a wonderful symbol of the title character Woyzeck as a man stripped bare by his poverty, the darkness and stilted air weighing upon his sanity and adding a disturbing dimension of reality to his apocalyptic visions.
Whilst rejoicing in its haunting atmosphere, it must also be said that the sheer size of the crypts perhaps worked to lose some of the intimacy and pacing of this promenade piece. The time spent animatedly darting from one room to the other mid confrontation inevitably lost some of its ferocity within the awkward shuffling of the audience and it would have perhaps benefited from a more enclosed space. Despite the odd occasion where I felt as if I were chasing the ball at a tennis match, moments in which Woyzeck tenderly handed his few possessions to audience members worked to immediately gain back any sense of intimacy that I felt I had lost. Indeed, one of the performance’s strengths was its ability to pepper moments of raw and unyielding intensity with delicate and tender ones such as this.
And yet the piece’s real strength is that of its actors. Casting a female to play Woyzeck, Cassie Barraclough perfectly captures the character’s gradual dehumanisation as a poor solider submitting himself to medical testing in order to put bread on the table. She delivers visceral, animalistic rages with such power and ferocity and yet all the while maintains such fragility and sadness that one wants to pick her up and carry her away. She is very ably supported by Arabella Lawson and John-Mark Philo whilst Eleanor Rushton as Woyzeck’s common-law wife Marie is excellent. She is beautifully beguiling as she entertains the attentions of a young drum major, and yet scenes in which she comforts her invisible child lend a very real sense of her isolation and loneliness. Her physicality amongst the shadows of the crypts, locked in a dance of destruction between the light and the dark, reflects beautifully both her moral ambiguity and the dilemma that will lead to her demise.
The use of sound is employed to great effect amongst the crypt acoustics, the ghostly echoes that spill from them helping to capture the sense of a man that lingers somewhere between life and death. I sometimes felt that the space was sometimes not used to its maximum potential, its intriguing little nooks and crannies being ignored in favour of racing up and down all its rooms. And yet the performers’ interaction with the lighting and sound within the space, aided by some fantastic performances, makes for an exciting and refreshing retelling of the Woyzeck story.
Woyzeck is playing from the 14 to 18 of August, including two matinees at 2pm on Thursday 16 August and Saturday 18 August. Purchase tickets here.