Buchner's play at the new Omnibus, Clapham.
This seminal unfinished work by Buchner, conceived around 1836 but not staged until 1913 by Max Reinhardt, still has the power to perplex, shock, amuse and create anger, through discomfort, for audiences. From fragments of work and reworks by Buchner the unfinished story of the Everyman Woyzeck is seen, by some, as a simple yet fume-filled crime of passion or/and a disintegration of the simple human mind through scientific experimentation on the individual. A philosophical treatise? A love story? Science versus God? Woyzeck is as complex and it is simple. Fragmented story telling as a Spiegel im Spiegel of the human condition.
Whatever this extraordinary is, the one thing we do know is that it was left unfinished by the author. This so-called ‘working class tragedy’ is very much in the hands of the director and company to assert its case for staging and then conclude as they see fit. In this telling, Robyn Winfield-Smith gives Woyzeck the final moments by the pond with a question to God. Some productions see him drown in the pond; cleansing himself of sin and blood. A possible salvation in either case? Perhaps.
The new-opened and impressive Omnibus, the old Clapham library, is so perfectly suited for this 100th anniversary production as the building itself was built in 1889, now serving as an arts centre after being carefully and sensitively restored and reopened by the local community.
Staged within the archways and reading rooms of the old librabry, Woyzeck is magnificently designed by Fly Davis, using every inch of the ground floor, its exposed walls, archways, ceilings and great width. This superb vista is sensationally lit by an evocative lighting design from Oliver Fenwick, under and over scored with haunting compositions from Gregory Batsleer. The design team for this inaugural production at Omnibus have set an artistic bar, and the bar is very high indeed.
The superb cast is lead by Liam Smith as the fateful Woyzeck; mentally disintegrating from his simple life through the surreal and absurd renderings of a doctor and captain, played with witty, knowing playfulness by Nigel Hastings and Keiron Jecchinis. As a trio, they really grasped the reigns on vaudevillian physical and linguistic comedy, making Buchner’s existential rhetoric seem simple and totally accessible. Indeed, it is, at its core… just plain silly!
Stunning puppet-work directed by Jimmy Grimes (War Horse) served as a super added treat for the highly metaphorical monkey-scene, which has been trained by his superior intellect – man – to entertain and ‘perform’ on demand. Plus a beautiful horse-head with white hooves to boot. Literally!
Puppets, live music, dance, song, revelry, philosophy, love, danger, betrayal, passion, greed, murder, religion, morality and peas! A stunning and first-class beginning to the newest arts venue in London. Robyn Winfield-Smith is to be applauded for taking one of the most complex and important texts of the past 100 years; delivering a high-octane, visually arresting and fully accessible piece of theatre for a 21st Century audience. A class act. Very highly recommended.