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Woyzeck review at Birmingham Repertory Theatre – ‘joyous and complex’

The cast of Woyzeck at Birmingham Repertory Theatre. Photo: Graeme Braidwood
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Woyzeck, Georg Büchner’s fragmented, unfinished play about a downtrodden soldier who murders his partner isn’t an immediately obvious choice for a mass community participation project, but the latest instalment of Birmingham Repertory Theatre’s excellent participatory programme, Furnace, is a joyous thing.

Leo Butler’s adaptation preserves the absurd logic of the original amidst uber-contemporary references to drone strikes, automation, data privacy and fast food chains. This isn’t window-dressing, though – the writing is as politically astute as it is funny and accessible.

Two professional actors lead the show as Woyzeck and his partner Marie, but it’s the community cast who make the biggest impact. Under director Roxana Silbert and choreographer Rosie Kay, the crowd scenes are thrillingly staged, replete with circus, bhangra, silly robot-dancing and, finally, a long and moving procession which recalls Pina Bausch.

Of the colourful supporting cast, Troy Richards is especially nuanced as a laconic soldier, and Josef Hyland exudes pitch-perfect braggadocio as the Drum Major. In fact, the community cast is indistinguishable from the two leads, both in its acting and its theatrical purpose and framing.

There are definite missteps – the virginal white nightdress which Marie wears for her death scene is a lazy choice, and a sexually predatory Captain who manipulates and abuses Woyzeck is played uncomfortably for laughs. Nonetheless, the show leaves you buoyed by the gesture of a huge – and hugely committed – group of people working together to give life to a complex, rich piece of art.

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A massive community cast lead this rich and accessible adaptation of Georg Buchner’s classic