Review – Woyzeck on the Highveldt – Handspring Puppets at the Barbican

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So you know I like puppets, right? I’m probably the theater blogger who writes the most about puppets who isn’t a puppets-only specialist. For this reason I didn’t hesitate or even spend much time thinking about buying tickets to Woyzeck, Handspring’s current show at the Barbican. They’re probably the most famous puppet group in London (thanks to War Horse, the perenially out of my price range play), but for £18 I was very eager to see what they could do in a more intimate venue.

Woyzeck is a decidedly adult show, with touches of absurdism and sympathy for the common man that had me thinking of Kafka and Candide; but its assembly left too many coherency gaps that my mind was unable to close. Instead, I went on my own flights of fancy as the low-tech animations at the back formed constellations or township scenery. Woyzeck seemed to have a lot to contemplate, but I could never understand his sense of something urgent and bad coming his way. And while the characters seemed nicely translated into a South African contexts, none of them seemed very engaging. I don’t think this was because they were (beautifully constructed and sweetly voiced) puppets; I think it’s because the script was a mess. If folowing it literally made for an incomprehensible stage experience, then the story must be edited to better suit its medium. For this reason I can’t recommend this show. It’s sold out, anyway, but console yourself that you have not missed a masterpiece.

(Woyzeck’s last night at the Barbican’s Silk Street Theater is Saturday, September 10th, 2011. This review is for a performance that took place on Thursday September 8th.)

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