Theatre in Wales

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Cinematic and fragmented

At NYTW

Theatr Cenedlaethol Ieuenctid Cymru=-Woyzeck , Aberystwyth Arts Centre , September 4, 2002
In director Firenza Guidiís interpretation, Georg Buchnerís Woyzeck takes place in the title characterís mind, so her decision to stage the play in a space suggesting a human brain makes sense. The concept is also so clear and vivid it needs no explanation. When a bundle of tangled, loose-ended wires tipped with tiny light bulbs that looks like a nerve or synapse amble jerkily across the empty air 200 feet above the playing space, we know we are in a brain. When the walls surrounding the synapse (and the free-standing audience) flicker with shadow-shows and split to reveal talking heads without bodies, jazz bands, drill squads, and tango dancers, we know this brain belongs to someone who is going mad, or is very imaginative.

The Theatr Cenedlaethol Ieuenctid Cymru/National Youth Theatre of Walesís bilingual production of Woyzeck : Crime or Passion?/Trosedd Neu Angerdd?, currently running at the Aberystwyth Arts Centre, is the final instalment in three productions of Woyzeck in four languages directed by Guidi. The previous two were staged in Indianapolis and Milan. It would be more accurate to say this production is trilingual, or multilingual, as the spectator is bombarded with a babel of visual language as well as dialogue in Cymraeg and English.

The cinematic and fragmented nature of this production is entirely in keeping with Buchnerís text and the sadly true legend of its creation. In 1837, Buchner began writing a play about a young man (or two?) who is driven to desperation, madness, and (maybe) crime by poverty, the dehumanising routines of his military career, and the (presumed) infidelity of his girlfriend. After writing four fragments of this work, the 23-year-old playwright contracted typhus and, 17 days later, died. His unfinished script remained unperformed for 60 years.

Guidi and the cast and crew were inspired in part by fragments collected from other works of art. Guidi kindly showed me some of these source images, after a rehearsal about two weeks ago. Photographs were tacked up in the Arts Centreís dance studio. They depicted sand gardens, scaffolding, piles of wax dollsí heads, busy wallpaper patterns, a litter of kitschy ceramic kittens. In the play, Woyzeck demands of Marie: ďAre you cold? When youíre cold you wonít feel the cold.Ē The magazine clippings ripped out and tacked up among the floor-to-ceiling mirrors showed divided spaces and multiplied objects. In a few pictures, the landscapes of routine and desolation, calm and chaos contain solitary human figures. The production takes off from these patterns and worlds. In spaces like these, people like Woyzeck and Marie wander and may be numbed or lost.

Robin Husbandsí set design also recalls the state of Buchnerís script. Tightly stretched rectangular swathes of translucent white cloth cover four stories of scaffolding walls that enclose the Great Hall of the Arts Centre. It looks like many huge sheets of blank paper. Void before creation is not darkness upon waters, but so much white paper untouched by ink, the pages on which Buchner never wrote the rest of his play.

Still, the 57-strong cast of skilful young actors are telling a story, not merely creating performance art soup. Woyzeck : Crime or Passion?/Trosedd Neu Angerdd? is coherent and gripping, even though you emerge from this feeling that the world outside the performance space seems unusually quiet, stationary, and empty, or like your mind has been through a few cycles in a washing machine and then suddenly let out. It is very enjoyable, and surprisingly upbeat at times. A scene in a fairground is great fun: you will find yourself moving in slow circles, as many of last nightís spectators did, trying to catch all the sights, sounds, and individual stories being played out around you. If you can get tickets to this show, which is fast selling out, go see how Guidi and TCIC have filled in and multiplied Buchnerís unknowns. As Iíve promised not to reveal anything that might surprise you, I wonít tell you (much) about the conveyor belt from Cardiff Airport.

Reviewed by: Rebecca Nesvet

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