Woyzeck at Omnibus Arts Centre
Büchner’s seminal play was first performed exactly a century ago, in November 1913. It still has a powerful political resonance that this production at Omnibus, a new arts centre in Clapham, expertly draws out.
The audience enters the theatre by walking across the stage, completely covered in woodchips and densely filled with mist. Two men are crouching over wooden blocks, cleaving them with axes. Dark cello sounds wash over the audience as we take our seats. The whole setting is cinematic and very atmospheric; combined with this feel are some fantastically theatrical elements, such as puppetry and live music.
The music by Gregory Batsleer is fantastic, ranging from the clear monotone of a crystal glass to frenetic cello and piano pieces; there are even some live elements with Jaz Delorean and Ellie Westbrook on the accordion, and one character playing the spoons. In fact, music plays an important part in the play as characters frequently break into song, with oblique lyrics being an effective way of subtly setting the tone or the theme for a scene.
The songs work well because the lyrics sound natural. This is due to the excellent further translation of Büchner’s text by Ms Robyn Winfield-Smith, based on Michael Ewans’ adaptation. None of the dialogue is stilted, despite some very abstract lines. There are lots of strange, seemingly contextless aphorisms throughout, some with profound messages (“how can we poor people afford morals?”) and some difficult to understand, but Ewans’ translation deals with them well.
The cast all give high-quality performances: David Rubin as the Showman has a loud, boisterous demeanour, addressing the audience like some kind of seedy children’s entertainer. Kieron Jecchinis plays the moustached Captain very well, with a loud and rich voice reminiscent of Matt Berry. He provides humour that is poignantly offset with moments of poeticism and profundity from Woyzeck (Liam Smith). Smith brilliantly portrays a simple man whose submission to manipulation by people richer and cleverer than him sends him into a state of dangerous, wide-eyed delirium that has tragic consequences.
For such a small and new venue, this is a remarkably well-executed, polished production with many elements that show off how powerful good theatre can be.
Woyzeck is at Omnibus Arts Centre until 7th December 2013. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.