Woyzeck on the Highveld: A Northcott Review

Razz editor, Anna went along to see the new production from the Handspring Puppet Company, here are her thoughts…

Handspring Puppet company, well known for having created War Horse, have returned with the unique performance that is Woyzeck on the Highveld. The company began in 1981 by co-founders Adrian Kohler and Basil Jones, starting with children’s shows, later moving on to adult theatre. Their technique works to make the audience feel that the puppet has been brought to life, even though the puppeteers are not hidden from view. If anything, being able to see the puppeteers means you’re able to see the faces of the people who love what they do.

Woyzeck on the Highveld is the story of Woyzeck, a migrant worker struggling in the city. His ultimate stressor of urban life boils down to the unfaithfulness of his partner, and mother of his child (it is not completely clear whether she is his wife or not) as she takes interest in another man. Throughout the performance, however, it is clear that Woyzeck is a troubled man, with strange visions, and it is not only the situation of his partner that bothers him.

The most striking part of seeing Woyzeck on the Highveld are the puppets and animation screen. Featured in the centre of the set, it provides a constant partner to the puppets. The screen provides beautiful, detailed illustrations, which move and change with the play, creating a fantastic extra. The characters have detailed and even haunting faces, which adds to the bleakness of the play. They are joined by a human actor who plays the role of narrator, and keeps the audience involved and entertained throughout.

However, whilst the main plot of the performance is the issue of Woyzeck and his partner, there are continuous parts of the play that were hard to follow in their relation to the rest of the play. Whilst these interludes provide stunning artistic work, it was easy to feel lost in what was happening. For example, the narrator returns to stage with an amazing rhino puppet and commences a circus-esque section of the play. The rhino puppet was incredible and the puppeteers really brought it to life, but the significance of this part to the play as a whole was hard to figure out. The whole performance was still enjoyable despite this, but you were left feeling that you didn’t quite understand what was going on at all times.

Despite this, the play cannot be denied its creativity and excellent workmanship. All the puppeteers were committed and in character at all times. The set and animation screen were brilliant additions, and the puppets themselves were works of art. This play is definitely worth a watch for even if you don’t fully understand what’s going on, the audience is still entertained and enticed by the puppets and music.

The final performance is tonight (5th November) at 7.30pm. Book your tickets here!

Razz love, Anna

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