Theatre, Drama Old Vic , Southwark Until Saturday June 24 2017
  • 4 out of 5 stars
(2user reviews)
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 (© Manuel Harlan)
© Manuel Harlan

John Boyega as Woyzeck

 (© Manuel Harlan)
© Manuel Harlan

John Boyega as Woyzeck Sarah Greene as Marie

 (© Manuel Harlan)
© Manuel Harlan

John Boyega as Woyzeck Sarah Greene as Marie

 (© Manuel Harlan)
© Manuel Harlan

John Boyega as Woyzeck

 (© Manuel Harlan)
© Manuel Harlan

John Boyega as Woyzeck Sarah Greene as Marie

 (© Manuel Harlan)
© Manuel Harlan

John Boyega as Woyzeck Sarah Greene as Marie

 (© Manuel Harlan)
© Manuel Harlan

John Boyega as Woyzeck, Stefan Rhodri as the Captain

'Star Wars' star John Boyega returns to the stage in a gritty tragedy

Some Disney film or other has made John Boyega an A-list name in the years since he last performed on the London stage in 2009. But those who know him solely as the larksome Finn from 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens' might be surprised at the heaviness of his vehicle for his theatrical comeback. Georg Büchner's incomplete classic 'Woyzeck' follows a soldier experiencing a breakdown under appalling social conditions. This version – directed by Joe Murphy – is an adaptation by multi-talented 'This is England' and 'Harry Potter and the Cursed Child' scribe Jack Thorne. 


Venue name: Old Vic
Address: 103 The Cut
Waterloo Rd
Opening hours: Bar open 6pm-midnight Mon and Tue; 1pm-midnight Wed; 6pm-2am Thu and Fri; 1pm-2am Sat
Transport: Tube: Waterloo; Rail: Waterloo
Price: £12-£60. Runs 2hr 10min
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Average User Rating

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 Interesting is a funny adjective isn't it? It has connotations of playing euphemism as a means to prevent the causing of offence. I mean that a only slightly when I describe 'Woyzeck' as an interesting play. I didn't get fully immersed in the play, and spend the entirety of it's 130 minutes running time (act one = 50 mins, 20 min interval, act two = 60 mins) at a degree of distance as opposed to feeling a total emotional impact. But maybe that's the point? Everything is skillfully done, from acting to staging. And yet... Woyzeck is a character alienated by his past, never fully in the present moment and desperate to secure a future that will make him whole - is it any wonder this absence of presence is then replicated within the viewing experience? Told with gallows humour (which results in a surprising amount of laughs) this provocative play still packs a punch since its original (incomplete) publication in 1879. 

Alexandra L

Woyzeck is a play which on paper doesn’t sound much like a barrel of laughs. It’s not. But you should see it anyway because it’s brilliant. Dark, messy and head-turning, this is a provocative piece of theatre from the director of ‘Harry Potter and The Cursed Child’ that deserves to find an audience for its sometimes confusing, often humorous, always brave depiction of mental breakdown set in 80’s Berlin but relatable across decades and oceans.

A gorgeously minimal set consists mainly of flat, faux stone walls that descend like silent pillars of judgment around the characters. Set to a soundtrack clearly inspired by the 80’s electronic pop currently in vogue again thanks to the likes of ‘Stranger Things’, the cast is small and the script is intense; if simulated sex, full frontal male nudity and frequent use of the ‘c’ word offend you, I’d suggest ‘42nd Street’ might be more up your street.

Performances of pure class come from Ben Batt and Nancy Carroll who show that you don’t need to be the marquee headliner to be the most memorable person on stage. Their chemistry is intense and their characters move through light & shade in a way that was both appalling and endearing.

As the titular Woyzeck, John Boyega gets top marks for effort. He is clearly trying his hardest in a role that’s exceptionally challenging however, I think it’s a stretch too far for him. Seeing in its preview incarnation means there’s obviously room for further development but at times he looked nervous and quite often, seemed to be rushing to get the next words out. I found myself wishing he had the confidence to take a pause between lines and to make me really believe that he was saying them for the first time. I admire his courage in taking on this role and the start of Act 2 provided some of his best scenes but overall, I feel he would have been more comfortable and believable in a lighter role, one that would make use of his lovely comic timing and perhaps one that was in an ensemble where he wouldn’t feel the weight of leading such a monstrously heavy show on his own.

Woyzeck is billed as one of the most extraordinary plays ever written and I’d have to agree. Seeing this on stage in the Old Vic – hands down one of the most luminously beautiful theatres I’ve ever been in – has made me want to search out and read the original script. Often period plays can have a distance between you and the characters; you find yourself unable to empathise or imagine yourself in their situation. Not so here and the words and actions played out before me with barely contained rage and unbridled sorrow remained with me long after I’d left.