Darkly comic production of Woyzeck at Nottingham Playhouse

THERE was a distinctly international atmosphere at Nottingham Playhouse on Friday evening as the first NEAT 11 (Nottingham European Arts Festival) continued with a performance of Woyzeck.

The fact that the play, which is the story of the impoverished soldier Woyzeck (played by Moritz Grive) who descends into madness when he learns that his beloved wife Marie (Maren Eggert) has been unfaithful to him, was performed by Deutsches Theater Berlin in German (with subtitles) did not put off the enthusiastic audience who laughed uproariously at the opening scenes which involved a pantomime horse and the philosophies of a strange story-teller with long hair and a top hat.

We are later introduced to Woyzeck and Marie, whose relationship is thwarted by the Drum Major (Christoph Franken). Drunk and pompous, the Drum Major may not be the most attractive man - but he wins Marie over with a pair of diamond earrings which eventually betray their affair to Woyzeck.

It is a play that may well make theatre-goers feel pessimistic - Woyzeck has to work for the crazed Army Captain (Matthias Neukirch) and allows the Doctor (Helmut Mooshammer) to experiment on him before he finds out about his wife’s betrayal and murders her.

But the play, which was written by the 19th Century German writer Georg Büchner, was also darkly comic and moved from the metaphysical to the slapstick effortlessly making it thoroughly enjoyable to watch.

The stage set was minimal and the narrative was driven forward by the energetic performances of all the cast members. The production also included the music of American singer-songwriter Tom Waits and the combination of English and German dialogue was a nice touch, emphasising the partnership between the two countries during this festival.

The inimitable music of Waits also provided a rich, almost cinematic, backdrop for the action to take place so that the desperation Woyzeck experiences gives him an almost heroic quality with which the audience could empathise.

The first NEAT festival is a partnership between Nottingham City Council, One Nottingham, Nottingham Playhouse, Theatre Royal Nottingham, Lakeside Arts Centre, Nottingham Contemporary, New Art Exchange and Broadway Cinema and Media Centre. For more details visit www.neatfestival.co.uk.

By Catherine Allen