by Lucy Allen
New translation of German play brings insane circus to Toronto
…What to say about Woyzeck? You know those plays you go and see when you’re in the mood for some simple entertainment that doesn’t require any deep thought? Red Light District’s Woyzeck, currently playing at the Lower Ossington Theatre, is not one of those plays. It’s odd, it’s abstract and it’s definitely something you need to be in the mood for. If you ARE in the mood for it though, it’s definitely worth checking out.
Woyzeck, originally written in 1837 by Georg Buechner, follows Woyzeck (Reid Linforth), a soldier who is very quickly descending into madness. Set against the backdrop of a one-ring circus, Woyzeck tries to make sense of the murder of his lover Marie (Lauren Gillis) through a series of flashbacks.
The best parts of Woyzeck are its staging and performances. The circus theme definitely suited the manic and bizarre energy of the play. The set is creative, colourful and extremely well-used. Any character on stage is always engaged in some sort of circus act. There is a doctor as a ring master, a soldier as a juggler, and at one point, a shaving scene is turned into a knife throwing routine. Every bit of the space is used well and the choreography is entrancing and sharp. My show partner Shannon, who is also a fan of experimental and absurd theatre, best described it as “a dance with words”.
Reid Linforth as the troubled Woyzeck grounds the whole show and is the strongest of the performances. He has madness down perfectly but also has some great lucid moments on stage. Eve Wylden as the abusive and somewhat mad doctor and Marcel Dragonieri as the Captain also gave very energetic and memorable performances and played well off each other.
It was Whitney Ross-Barris as the singing bearded lady who was one of the most surprising and entertaining parts as she ended up providing most of the sound effects for the show. One moment she would be crying like a baby, the next she would be a knife sharpening on a stone. Not only did this add tremendously to the experience, but they were perfectly timed and I can’t imagine how much practice that must have taken. Add to that some great live musicians and at times you felt as though you were in a circus.
I have to admit though that while Shannon enjoyed the bombastic circus routines and stylized movement pieces, I actually preferred the few quiet moments the show had to offer. Oh, I liked the odd and bizarre scenes, but then things would quiet down and this served the play well. Any scene involving Woyzeck and his friend Andres (Mike MacKinnon) were among my favourites and I found myself craving to learn more about their relationship.
But as I said, it’s a very heavy and abstract piece and not one that is easy to follow. The show tends to drag, especially towards the end, and after a while we found ourselves just wishing that they would get to the point. Part of the problem is that it isn’t really a man’s descent into madness as the show begins with him completely mad. This seems like more of a directorial choice than a problem of the script, and I would have liked to see a bit more of a build-up towards the character’s madness rather than one static state of being throughout the show. The performers seem more than up to the challenge.
But for its flaws, Woyzeck is still a pretty solid show full of spectacular performances and innovative design. It isn’t a show that the masses will all enjoy, but for those of us who enjoy the occasional weird and absurd romp into expressionism theatre, it’s a show worth checking out. Just keep in mind that it was written by the author in between fever dreams just days before his death. That should say enough.
–Woyzeck runs until Jun 19 at the Lower Ossington Theatre (100a Ossington Ave)
-Shows run Wed-Sat at 8pm and Sat at 2pm.
-Tickets are $20 in advance (online) or $25 at the door. Students are $15.
-Tickets can be purchased online or at the door.
-Photograph of Reid Linforth and Eve Wylden provided by Red Light District.