This review was written for Inter:Mission, the online cultural magazine for students of Bristol University.
The latest production from the University of Bristol’s Spotlights took to the stage this week in the form of Georg Büchner’s fragmented tragedy Woyzeck. Playing at the Bierkeller Theatre, the show was a dark and striking depiction of one man’s descent into madness, fuelled by the ruthless intentions of those around him in a world of military servitude, morality and poverty.
Choreographed by Anna Coleman, the physicality of the piece was enchanting from the start, with cast members joining together to create creeping, spiderlike shapes across the stage. A short but intense play, the audience was frequently awakened either by outbursts of eerie, disharmonious fanfare or the soft refrains of old folk songs, saluting the nineteenth century Germanic world in which the play was originally written.
Jacob Frederickson’s portrayal of Franz Woyzeck was excellent, his final living scene inducing pity, horror and awe within a few mesmerising minutes. Ellie Jackson’s Marie was similarly captivating, her desperate study of the Bible and inability to pray signalling perfectly the tragedy of the fallen woman. Perhaps the finest performance, however, was that of Harry Trevaldwyn as the Captain, a darkly comic character with a warped but rigid sense of morality. Complimented perfectly by Bryher Flanders as the Doctor, their scenes succeeded in being simultaneously the most humorous and most disturbing.
Visually, the piece was enhanced by contrasting neutral tones with bright crimson. Rowena Henley’s set design was bare with a faint glimmer of lights arranged on the wall behind, but the flashes of red in Kirsty Asher’s costumes hinted at the ominous undertones of blood, sin and death. From Marie’s red shawl to the Doctor’s rusty brogues and the blood on Woyzeck’s arms, the audience was reminded of the heated passions of humanity hidden beneath the desolate, drab society in which they continue to exist.
The piece was a chilling, surreal and poetic display of Woyzeck’s dehumanisation and the grim decline of the society around him. The cast were unified and the Bierkeller provided the perfect atmosphere for such a shadowy but vaguely comical production, leaving the audience with a memorable performance that was as equally enticing as it was disconcerting.