Theatre, Drama
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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

Oh mother! John Boyega returns to the stage in a very Freudian take on the timeless tragedy

It’s been eight years since John Boyega last acted on a stage – Kilburn’s Tricycle Theatre in 2009 – but it might as well be a lifetime. Back then he was a teen actor in an ensemble cast. Now, playing lovable ex-Stormtrooper Finn, he’s one of the leads in the new ‘Star Wars’ trilogy, the first part of which – ‘The Force Awakens’ – was the third-highest grossing film in history.

The cliché, of course, is to show everyone you’re a Serious Actor now and return to the stage with ‘Hamlet’: exactly what his TFA co-star Oscar Isaac is up to right now in New York. Boyega has saved that for another time, but he’s opted for something almost as weighty in the form of Georg Büchner’s ‘Woyzeck’, a mainstay of the European tragic canon that’s a world away from the giddy larks of the space franchise.

But before it all turns into a weird Freudian nightmare in the second half, culturally savvy ‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child’ scribe Jack Thorne’s new version makes total sense for Boyega. Here, Frank Woyzeck is a British soldier posted in West Germany during the Cold War. The character’s puppyish enthusiasm, cornball humour, underlying insecurity and intense love for his partner Marie (an enjoyably fiery Sarah Greene) are a perfect fit for Boyega’s youthful brio. He shows he can act, if that was ever in doubt, but he also brings an ebullience and fun to a play not exactly famous for either of those things.

It gets pretty weird, though. Amongst other things, it’s the politics of ‘Woyzeck’ that have kept it popular for 140 years: its depiction of the titular soldier’s brutal destruction by a cold, class-bound system that recoils in horror from his poverty has chimed with all manner of European revolutions. It feels like a shoo-in for an update for the age of austerity, not least from Thorne, whose bigger hits have been supplemented by smart, socially conscious plays like ‘Hope’ and ‘Junkyard’.

But instead he turns the whole thing into a delirious Freudian dream, a parable of toxic masculinity, in which Woyzeck – whose relationship with his prostitute mother is depicted in a series of increasingly naff flashbacks – grows ever more paranoid, struggling with childhood demons, adult insecurities, his almost obsessive love for Marie, and the side effects of a drug trial he enrols on to make ends meet. Some of it is very compelling: Boyega makes Woyzeck’s descent into madness impressively gruelling stuff. Some of it doesn’t hit the mark at all: a strand about Woyzeck’s uncertainly as to his child’s gender feels vague and thrown away; the bit where he suckles at his prostitute mother’s teat feels ‘a bit much’. There’s nothing wrong with layering on the psychoanalytic symbolism if you have a point to make, but it all feels far too dense and fiddly.

It’s still pretty entertaining, mind. Joe Murphy’s production zips along, greatly enhanced by Tom Scutt’s Giger-ish monolith set and Isobel Waller-Bridge’s grandiose synth score, and the cast attack it with tremendous energy. If Boyega took the job to show us there’s more to him than Finn then he’s succeeded, at least until ‘The Last Jedi’ rolls around.

By: Andrzej Lukowski


Event website: http://www.oldvictheatre.com
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Average User Rating

3.6 / 5

Rating Breakdown

  • 5 star:2
  • 4 star:8
  • 3 star:4
  • 2 star:2
  • 1 star:0
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Wozzeck is one of my favourite Operas and I love The Drowned Men by Punch Drunk so I resisted until the very last week to see this. There were so many mixed reviews but on the day that I went, it was given standing ovation.

The new script work very well in showing the melt down of the sweet boy and conflicted Woyzeck into an obssessive monster. Played very well by Boyega - who shows nuance in his performance - the eager to please soldier, the indulgent friend and the man in love who wants to save his wife and little family.

The staging works well. so do the other actors. The chemistry between the actors was evident and the last scene was just heartbreaking.


Woyzeck was okay, but not more than okay.

The set and music are incredibly well done, and the first Act holds together beautifully, fulfilling some of the drive of Buchner's original play. After the interval, however, things start to go awry.

When the plot breaks down and the focus becomes Woyzeck's deteriorating mental state, John Boyega, who had hitherto been quite good in the role, over acts it terribly. There's a lot of writhing and gurning, which stereotypes mental illness in a way that is really quite troubling. It's like Jack Thorne and Joe Murphy felt it was necessary to signpost at every opportunity 'THIS MAN IS HAVING A BREAKDOWN!' when really a lot more subtlety would have served them better.

I am being critical, but it wasn't actually terrible. In the field of big-stars-in-plays-in-London it is more engaging than Obsession (starring Jude Law) was at the Barbican, but it falls way short of Angels in America (starring, well, lots of people) at the National. Overall, Woyzeck is still worth seeing.


I went knowing nothing about the play or the plot; I had no preconceptions. Like most who reviewed here I loved the set, superb, simple but effective. The music was powerful too. The first half was a corker. Lots of humour, well paced and excellent acting. However the second half, well, it appeared to have been written by a different author. Such a great concept, strong plot all lost in the wind in an overly surreal second act.


I had not actually heard of the original play, so went there not knowing much about it apart from the fact that it was set it cold war Berlin and John Boyega was the main character.  The play seemed decent enough with Boyega playing the part of a young solider with a girlfriend and young child drafted to Berlin, trying to make ends meet in very poor accommodation.  There were also frequent hints at something that he had done in Belfast which caused most of the other soldiers to snub him.

There was some humour in it and a lot of sexual references and a bit of nudity which seemed to be there just for the shock value.  The play seemed to represent someone's downward spiral to madness, but for me, there were far too many unanswered questions at the end.  I don't mind if there is a bit of leaving you to draw your own conclusions, but when I thought about the play over the next day, I came to the conclusion that it was a bit too obscure for me and I had no idea why a lot of it was in the play, such as whether the baby was a girl or boy.

The friend that I went with thought it was brilliant.  I am pleased that I went to see it and the acting was good, but it didn't really do anything for me.

This really is a case of style over substance. So much is thrown into the mix to try and titillate the audience - dynamic staging, a Hollywood star, simulated copulation, hallucination, pill popping, and even a freshly waxed penis played for shock value - yet none of this can hide the fact that it is a cliché-ridden script that might have been put together for an undergraduate treatise on mental health. And John Boyega's theatrical attempts to hammer home these clichés do not help - it is not really realistic to have someone suffering mental health issues writhe around on the floor foaming at the mouth - that only happens in the worst horror films!

And one huge complaint I have is that there are extended scenes in German spoken by Doctor Martens (Darrell D'Silva) which really should have been subtitled for the audience (the set is the real star of this production, so why not go the extra mile and show subtitles when needed?).

However, on the plus side, Nancy Carroll is excellent in the dual role of the Captain's sexually frustrated wife and Woyzeck's cruel mother, and Steffan Rhodri is convincing as the Captain who seems to enjoy Woyzeck's massages that bit too much.

I think that there is enough in Georg Büchner’s original work for a convincing production to be put together - but this is most definitely not it.


I love some good staging, and this had great staging, so that is a plus. I didn't think the acting was quite up to scratch though - the plot called for some serious tension and a bit of a spiral of despair which I didn't think he quite pulled off. Not really intense enough for what it was, and slightly lacking in atmosphere. Pretty good, but probably not worth it for what the Old Vic charge for seats.


I was not familiar at all with this play before, and decided not to read anything about it before seeing this adaptation. The play starts with a conversation between Woyzeck and his girlfriend Marie, they are sat on the bed, kissing, fooling around, it's funny but with a dramatic background, already palpable. It sets the tone for the whole play. From that first second the curtain goes up on that bed in the middle of the stage and this decor representing Cold War Berlin, your mind and eyes will not go anywhere else but with Woyzeck and the characters around him. 

The story itself is very interesting, tragic and straighforward. 

There aren't many characters so the audience gets to know each one of them deeply, with their many flaws and sacrifices and how it impacts on Woyzeck's life and ultimately his girlfiend's.

John Boyega is beautifully crazy in this role. He is charismatic and takes this character to the core, and we are with him every minute of it in his fall into terror, depression, paranoia to a fatal ending. I have never seen him before (no, not even Star Wars) and I was really impressed by him but also the other actors and Sarah Greene (Marie) in particular. 

On the other hand, I thought the music was a bit basic and could have added more value, and the adolescent sex jokes were a bit much at some point. 

But all in all, what a performance, and what a play.


Jack Thorne has updated the classic and moved the action to Germany in the 80s, where the British army is stationing in the West Berlin. Frank Woyzeck is living with his girlfriend and their baby, they're both struggling financially, so the young soldier decides to sign up for dangerous medical experiments.

I think it an outstanding and powerful experience even though far away from the original Büchner’s original. 

Great sound and staging; I would definitely recommend vising the Old Vic to see John Boyega as Frank Woyzeck. 

What can I say?

If you want to see Woyzeck, Don't see this. It is not Woyzeck in anything other than Names and basic plot. the first half, filled with adolescent humour (only really working for the 'Forces Humour' soldier roles) Barely concealed comedic homoerotic Moments and a blasé attitude to any kind of pace. The scene before the interval has at least three points where it should have ended but didn't, Unless the aim was for an Artaudian style 'make the audience feel pain' it dragged on for far too long. 

The second act comes around with surprising and raucous sex, nudity and a flirtatious 'Andres' (here Andrews). The acting ranges from believable and incredible to painful and unwatchable. Reactions are late, the fight scene leaves realism to be desired and at points I buried my face in my hands to avoid seeing the GCSE style of acting. 

Now, John Boyega, The only thing other reviews seem to focus on, The title outside the theatre says 'JOHN BOYEGA in Woyzeck' this for me was instantly painful, and it felt as though we were supposed to accept the sometimes frightfully poor examples of acting due to his fame and renown. Some actors are for film and some are for Stage. Boyega did have moments of clarity where the character shone through as a cerebral, yet troubled individual struggling under the pressures of society and the ranking classes. But in the whole play this only happened about 50% of the time. Woyzecks descent into madness feels like a caricature of a Monty Python Insane character. In the moments of dark self pity you see a very real and believable person but when amped up it borders on comedic. All in all I was left wanting more from Boyega's performance.

Other characters were not without their faults but they were, I feel mainly bred from the writing. Marie (played by Sarah Greene) Is endearing and, at points, whiny with none of Buchners original fierceness or fire. Her piety is hammered home through 'Christainan aide-esqe' collecting and the running 'Joke' "The Pope's Been Shot'. Andres (Here Andrews played by Ben Batt) Is well needed comedic and professional relief, Dirty, Humorous, sexual and deeper than one would expect, Batt is the only person who I feel didn't fall into the trap of absurdity and over acting, a very stripped back (at one point literally) Performance. 

The writing of the piece left much to be desired. Calling something Woyzeck then not using the actual script of Woyzeck even in reference, Is like announcing the sound of music, but showing Snow White. Yes there is a Woman and seven small people but they are vastly different. Instead of seeing Buchners original underlying currents of turmoil and discomfort, these elements do not come in until after the interval, leaving the first act almost as 'Character development'. The Woyzeck 'Origins story' is meaningless, Giving a name to underlying problems which Buchner undeniably left unknown for a reason. The writing panders to a younger audience dragging things out and over explaining circumstances. 

The set, lighting and sound on the other hand were perfect, In tune with the action on stage and symbolic, yet still abstract enough to be Getting in touch with the german expressionistic roots of Woyzeck. 

In conclusion, This version of Buchners Woyzeck is many things:

- Not Buchners Woyzeck

- Gritty

- Dark

- Unapologetic

- Powerful

and yet I just can't get behind it...


Dear lord, this is an emotional rollercoaster! The first half lulls you into a false sense of security, with dark humour, engaging characters and a storyline of love and survival. When we return for part two, it's a slap around the face. Nudity. Sex. Darkness. Trauma, Deceit. Mental illness. It's got the lot. 

But I didn't find Woyzeck to be a hard watch, as some people have said. It's youthful and engaging. So engaging that it pulls you to the point that you are almost on the stage with the characters. 

The set was genius in it's simplicity. The moving panels drew you into the claustrophobia and confusion that Woyzeck feels. The lighting focusing on the flashbacks going on in his head. It's simple but mightily clever. 

By the end of act two, I was drawn to my feet - along with most of the audience - in a standing ovation. The rollercoaster had tipped me upside down and spun me around and I needed a drink! 

They've hung the play on John Boyega's name and talent. Yes, he is outstanding, but the whole cast is special. 

If I could give it 10 stars, I would! 


Woyzeck is an extraordinary play. For me it is about emotions, about jealousy, about an ability to handle life, desperation, poverty, love. 

It is very disturbing which means the actors are playing extremely well allowing to feel all the emotions with them. There are scenes that are so distressing that the audience was captivated to the highest level possible sitting so immensely quietly so you would hear a piece of dust flying. Hats off to John Boyega for taking on such a difficult play and doing it absolutely brilliantly. 

Woyzeck is a British soldier stationed in Cold War Berlin after a traumatic experience in Belfast. He finds himself haunted by his past and his present. He adores his wife and desperately trying to build a better future and escape from the poverty. The tragic consequences of him getting involved in a hormonal science experiment for money, is that he starts hallucinating and mixing past, present, love, pain, values, jealousy, trust. 

The play is showing in Old Vic. If you like drama play, don't miss it and be warned it is not a light play and at points the intensity of portrayed feelings is very high. 


This is probably one of the most intense plays I have seen for a while, but utterly engaging at the same time.  It's basically the tale of a man's descent into madness, although he seems to have had some issues prior to when we first meet him - the details are vague though.  John Boyega is brilliant and I would definitely watch him on stage again - he's very watchable and draws you in.  The supporting cast are also very good.  Be prepared for graphic scenes though - not sure many of the audience were...

Seriously impressive stuff, particularly from John Boyega. Dark and sometimes gruelling but the whole thing never outstayed its welcome. Stunning set design. What a contrast to the joy flowing from the audience floating on clouds after Twelfth Night at the Globe, but having seen that fairyfloss of giddy delight, in some ways made this resonate even more. Love to see JB in something else. The guy has serious acting chops.

Marvellous and thought provoking. Beautifully staged at the glorious Old Vic, this is a powerful theatre experience. While the cast are all solid, the play's the thing here.  Like The Goat, Woyzeck is not a welcoming or easy play but both are triumphs and stand easily as among the best theatre currently in London.


 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. 


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.