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Review Round-Ups

Were there star wars over John Boyega's Woyzeck?

Boyega plays the titular role in Jack Thorne's update of Georg Buchner's play

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Sarah Crompton, WhatsOnStage


"In this new adaptation, Jack Thorne has radically shaped and altered Büchner's original, while keeping its overwhelming bleakness and its sense of a protagonist who never understands his own life or his own tragedy."

"Thorne introduces shafts of humour amidst the gloom... He has also, helpfully, turned Marie into a real character that we care about rather than an embodiment of perfidious womankind."

"The production, directed by Joe Murphy, has a dark clarity."

"Boyega has enormous command and charisma. I'd have liked him to be slightly stiller as madness descends in the second act, but there is no doubting his power, his intensity or the devastating way that he conveys both a terrified vulnerability and a ferocious, broiling violence as he desperately tries to comprehend what is happening to him."

"The play is unrelentingly nihilistic but in such hands its descent into darkness is completely absorbing."

Michael Billington, The Guardian


"...for all the skill on display, I felt that one of the classics of modern drama had not just been radically revised, but overlaid with excessive invention...Thorne bombards us with explanations for Woyzeck's downfall."

"Joe Murphy's production, while cleverly executed, compounds this by giving us the full expressionist works. Tom Scutt's design consists of sliding panels that have the claustrophobic feel of a padded cell. We get thunderous music from Isobel Waller-Bridge, an explosive sound-score from Gareth Fry and dream-sequences, representing Woyzeck's Oedipal fantasies, that remind me of another work Thorne adapted for the stage, Let the Right One In."

"Boyega, however, is compelling to watch. He starts on a low key, suggesting a Woyzeck who combines physical power with emotional vulnerability. There is a genuine sense of shock when he suddenly head-butts the walls of his flat and he captures Woyzeck's bewilderment when he finds himself obliged to massage his captain's inner thigh."

"I can't fault the way the play is done. But the idea that a divided Berlin echoes the state of Woyzeck's mind is too glib and Büchner's distilled poetry is here turned into something prosaically explicit."

Fiona Mountford, Evening Standard


"If anyone can sprinkle some magic on Georg Büchner's elusive masterpiece... it's Jack Thorne."

"Thorne's version is earthy, robust and admirably clear, a quality that is by no means a given when it comes to this play."

"Joe Murphy's production sustains an atmosphere of mounting paranoia but, as almost always happens with this drama, the scenes of mental disintegration feel over-extended and play to diminishing effect."

"Boyega and Greene make a fine central pairing... Marie is prepared to fight for their union but Woyzeck, in Boyega's committed and muscular performance, increasingly seems to want to fight only with himself."

"This isn't an easy watch, but it certainly rewards audience effort."

Andrzej Lukowski, Time Out


"Jack Thorne's new version makes total sense for Boyega... 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's the politics of Woyzeck that have kept it popular for over 150 years... It feels like a shoo-in for an update for the age of austerity."

"But instead [Thorne] turns the whole thing into a delirious Freudian dream, a parable of toxic masculinity... 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."

Ann Treneman, The Times


"It's a searing experience, watching a man go mad, especially if that man is being played by John Boyega, of Star Wars fame, who turns in a very fine and distressingly good performance here in the title role."

"This will be a Marmite production and, for me, the second half was like being trapped inside my nightmare of nightmares. Nothing made sense, everyone was crazy, their insides being turned out (sometimes literally). It is not easy to watch and some people will find it perturbing."

"Murphy sets a good pace, at times coarse and funny, other times raw with fury. There is no escaping the relentlessness here. This is not date-night material. If you go, be prepared."

Tim Bano, The Stage


"Gutted, given structure, relocated and updated, is Thorne's play still Woyzeck? Well, yes and no. The essential structure is there and some scenes remain intact, but this is essentially a completely new play, and a ferocious one too, that grows exponentially in power as it progresses. It's the play that ''Woyzeckæ' would have been, needs to be, if written in 2017."

"Newly-minted Hollywood A-lister John Boyega, the star attraction as Woyzeck, starts slowly and with muted range. But, as the experimental drugs he's taking to raise a bit of cash start to take hold and Woyzeck deteriorates, that ferocity explodes and Boyega comes into his own. He thrashes and thunders around the stage in a state of insanity, making Sarah Greene's Marie look like a rag doll in his violent hands."

"Joe Murphy's increasingly trippy production goes for raw psychological drama over expressionism but, at its heart, it's still potently about inequality and division in its many forms: psychological, biological, physical."

Woyzeck runs at the Old Vic until 24 June 2017.

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