Previewed 13 May 2017, Opened 23 May 2017, Closed 24 June 2017 at the Old Vic Theatre
A major revival of Georg Büchner Woyzeck in London presented in a new version by Jack Thorne, directed by Joe Murphy and starring John Boyega.
1980s Berlin. The Cold War rages on and the world sits at a crossroads between Capitalism and Communism. On the border between East and West, a young soldier and the love of his life are desperately trying to build a better future for their child. But the cost of escaping poverty is high in this searing tale of the people society leaves behind.
"People like us are unhappy in this world and in the next: if we made it to heaven, we'd have to help make it thunder."
The cast features John Boyega as 'Woyzeck' with Ben Batt as 'Andrews', Sarah Greene as 'Marie', Nancy Carroll as 'Maggie', Steffan Rhodri as 'Captain Thompson' and Darrell D'Silva as 'Doctor Martens' along with Isabella Marshall, David Rubin and Theo Solomon. Directed by Joe Murphy with movement by Polly Bennett, designs by Tom Scutt, lighting by Neil Austin, music by Isobel Waller-Bridge, sound by Gareth Fry and illusions by Ben Hart. This production was delayed by one week - it was originally scheduled to preview from 6 May 2017, open on 17 May 2017 and close on 24 June 2017.
PLEASE NOTE: This production contains very strong language, nudity and sexual content and therefore is not suitable for ages sixteen and below.
John Boyega is best known for playing the role of 'Finn' in the 2015 film Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Jack Thorne's West End credits include writing the stage play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, from a story by JK Rowling (Palace Theatre 2016) and adapting John Ajvide Lindqvist's Let The Right One In (Apollo Theatre 2014).
When this production opened here at London's Old Vic Theatre in May 2017, Ann Treneman in the Times highlighted that "it's a searing experience, watching a man go mad, especially if that man is being played by John Boyega who turns in a very fine and distressingly good performance here in the title role. Thorne has set the play in 1981 Berlin and Woyzeck is a Brit who has been transferred from Northern Ireland." Paul Taylor in the i Newspaper commented how John Boyega's "last theatrical performance was in a minor role at the Tricycle eight years ago - since when he has achieved international acclaim as a reluctant stormtrooper in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. But he leaves you in no doubt about his stage chops in this devastating portrayal of the title character in Joe Murphy's production of Woyzeck... It could easily come across as excessive to the point of melodrama, were it not for the intensity of Boyega's performance." Fiona Mountford in the London Evening Standard wrote that "John Boyega and Sarah Greene make a fine central pairing. Impecunious but convincingly happy at the start, their love crumbles under the force of external circumstance... This isn't an easy watch, but it certainly rewards audience effort." Sarah Hemming in the Financial Times described how "Jack Thorne has taken Georg Büchner’s fragmentary 1837 drama and shifted it to 1980s Berlin. Woyzeck — played with tremendous presence and pain here by John Boyega — is now a British squaddie sent to guard an east-west checkpoint, a job both tense and tedious. The basic elements of Büchner’s splintered play remain... but Thorne has put flesh on the bones... the result, though excellent in parts, feels bogged down by explanation and addition." Dominic Cavendish in the Daily Telegraph said that John Boyega, "though a delight at times, could do with a little more light in his sabre." Quentin Letts in the Daily Mail held that "it would be unfair to judge John Boyega's stage capabilities from this gloomily lit, miserable production. He is a beefy lad with a certain stage presence, but he could do with coughing up his lines more clearly," while "any observations here about post-traumatic stress and childhood abuse have been said more clearly and memorably elsewhere." Michael Billington in the Guardian thought that "for all the skill on display, I felt that one of the classics of modern drama had not just been radically revised, but overlaid with excessive invention... where the source is tantalisingly elliptical, Thorne bombards us with explanations for Woyzeck’s downfall... Joe Murphy’s production, while cleverly executed, compounds this by giving us the full expressionist works... but the idea that a divided Berlin echoes the state of Woyzeck’s mind is too glib and Büchner’s distilled poetry is here turned into something prosaically explicit." Neil Norman in the Daily Express noted that, "while playwright Jack Thorne brings his own touch of magic to this new version, something still eludes him in the tale of a simple soldier whose growing despair leads him to a tragic denouement... Director Jack Murphy ladles on the symbolism rather generously... The first half lacks dramatic conflict but the second ramps up the agony as Woyzeck starts to unravel. A grim tale, grimly told."
"The latest to offer 'a new version' is Jack Thorne who has rather exceeded his brief. Büchner's Woyzeck is a simple-minded soldier broken by circumstances: grinding poverty, military discipline and medical experimentation. Thorne's Woyzeck has been traumatized by an abusive childhood, particularly at the hands of his prostitute mother. The problem is not so much that Thorne distorts the play but that he diminishes it. He sets the action among the British Army of the Rhine during the 1980s and devotes far too much time to outdated Cold War politics. It is given a powerfully visceral production by Joe Murphy with excellent performances by John Boyega, Ben Batt, Sarah Greene and, above all, Nancy Carroll. But it remains arid and unmoving." The Sunday Express
"For the first half, things seem remarkably, disarmingly ordinary, and often comical. This turns out to be an artful way of playing it, because nothing prepares you for the storms to come... Yet when the meltdown begins, it remains provocatively unclear what the real cause of Woyzeck's madness is. This is crucial and prevents the play from becoming anything pat or preachy... Woyzeck's friend Andrews, superbly played by Ben Bratt, is a swaggering, belligerent mass of aimless, tattooed testosterone... There's excellent support, too, from Steffan Rhodri and Nancy Carroll as the plummy army captain and wife, providing plenty of sexual and class-based comedy... The evening, though, belongs to John Boyega, who utterly transfixes in the title role. His slow descent into madness is riveting. We no longer approve of mental illness as an entertaining spectacle, of course, but on stage it's as weirdly compelling as ever... Boyega's maddened rages are almost Lear-like in their intensity. He totters like a damaged boxer, head rolling to one side, slapping himself repeatedly, or tense and crouched, whimpering... This is a tremendously impressive psychodrama that will stay with you, defying all easy explanations." The Sunday Times
"In Jack Thorne's radically revised version, John Boyega plays a squaddie relocated from Belfast to cold war-era West Germany where, along with his potty mouthed, sex-obsessed mate, he patrols the border while trying to raise extra cash to support his girlfriend Marie and their new born baby. Thorne has completely re-energised Buchner's jagged, fragmentary portrait of one man's descent into insanity. This Woyzcek witnessed an unspecified trauma in Belfast and grew up vainly craving his sexually abusive mother's love. The transference of the latter on to his claustrophobic relationship with Marie (Sarah Greene) makes ugly sense of the destructive spiral in which the two are trapped. But Thorne's rewrite comes at a cost. The poetic suggestiveness is lost and later scenes, in which Boyega's Woyzeck loses it, feel overcooked. Boyega is galvanising to watch as a man tortured by his illiteracy and physically turning on himself." The London Metro
Woyzeck in London at the Old Vic Theatre with previewed from 13 May 2017, opened on 23 May 2017 and closed on 24 June 2017.