The risk in the Lyric Hammersmith’s Secret Theatre season becomes palpable with ‘Show 1’ (confusingly the second show to open in the season), which (turn away now if you don’t want the big reveal) is a revival of Georg Büchner’s expressionist masterpiece ‘Woyzeck’.
The reason being, it’s not exactly the best production of this play if you’re not familiar with the text, or prepared for what is to come. Sean Holmes’s ‘Woyzeck’ is heavy on philosophy, light on narrative and big on symbolism, and it may leave people gasping for a frothy rom-com after its 90 minutes.
The play tells of simple soldier Woyzeck, who is bullied by his military commander, tested by his doctors and betrayed by his wife until the moment where our anti-hero is pushed to the brink of sanity and beyond.
Holmes has Woyzeck – well played by a whining Billy Seymour – harnessed at the waist to a long elastic rope that’s anchored at the middle of the stage. It’s the show’s central image, and it superbly and simply, if a little repetitively, conveys the play’s themes: humanity’s endless, pointless struggle, and how we are separated from animals by barely a whisker.
There’s the odd moment of quirky humour, especially in a scene where the entire cast dress in animal onesies and go out to party. Nadia Albina’s beguiling but confounding appearance as a weird, ethereal sort of fairy who dangles above Woyzeck’s head in leather pants is a step too far, however. It’s one of several moments that aren’t followed through.
Holmes’s tendency to rely on kooky symbols, rather than David Harrower’s good adaptation of this vital classic, occasionally grates. Nonetheless, amid all this wilful conceptualism, there are flashes of a brilliant show.
By Daisy Bowie-Sell