By Roshan Jacob
Fourth Wall Theatre’s depiction of Woyzeck delves into an exploration of human suffering. Despite being set in a bygone era, director Athena Tzallas’ vision seeks to connect humanity across the ages through the shared and relatable themes of pain, betrayal, hope and loss. While on a superficial level, the narrative of a broken German solider whose life was contained to a provincial town suggests no sense of relation to a student at Durham University, but as the layers of time and history peel off, Woyzeck promises to be an exploration of not just a life in seclusion but of the unchanging human condition and struggle for peace.
Following the life of deprived soldier Franz Woyzeck, the play casts an eye into his miserable life marked by an unfaithful lover (Marie played by Alice Chambers) and his constant domination by stronger forces of authority such as a controlling doctor (Lewis Russell) who sees him as little more than a science experiment, a captain (Harry Twining) who makes him wait on him hand and foot, and the drum major who plays his rival (Elliot Ancona) for the love for his child’s mother.
Upon asking the director why Woyzeck was chosen to be brought alive from script to stage, she commented on the ‘creative license’ and the ‘skeleton’ nature of a play that never saw itself receive a confirmed ending due to the death of the playwright at the age of twenty-three. The psychological inspection into the tortured titular character’s mind also allowed for the use of abstract ensemble work.
While following a realistic plotline, the play ventures into the surreal, the dark corners of the soldier’s mind, adding a dimension of exhilaration to a play that is already fast-paced. This offers what actor Kishore Thiagarajan-Walker (playing the role of Woyzeck) describes as ‘snapshots’ into the portrait of a person on the fringes of society, as the audience tracks what actor Elliot Ancona (playing the drum major) describes as downfall and descent into madness.
In opposition, contrast is provided in the role of Andres (played by Max Greenhalgh) who is in his own way lost and is thus unable to help Woyzeck navigate the murky waters of depression, casting commentary on themes such as the roles of friendship and support.
The choice of having the play take place in the Durham Union Chamber was a brilliant directorial choice, with the wooden flooring, benches and shields upon the walls being suitable for reflecting the interior of a town hall. The close-natured space is also effective as the audience is immediately immersed in the life of the provincial town, with actors coming up to front row members of the audience. Combined with the live music originally composed by Georgie Proctor, the atmosphere is palpable from the onset, with the sombre tunes welcoming the audience into a landscape of despair.
In a way, the fact that the play is so different from the student experience makes it a performance to behold, a window into a man’s troubles and his attempts to find happiness in a seemingly ‘pointless’ existence. The resounding cries of ‘Why does man exist?’ during a tavern scene hint at the play’s quest to answer the question.
All in all, Woyzeck, with its intimate setting, brilliant live music and ensemble work promises to be an insight into the world and even more so the mind of a laboured soldier. Having experienced the genius of direction and production, the solidarity of the cast and the fluidity of the play, Woyzeck constructs itself as a perfect theatre event for the end of the term.
Photograph: Fourth Wall Production Team