Review: Family fun, friction and fear in Jez Butterworth's The Ferryman, Royal Court
Review: Rising stars in Othello, Wilton's Music Hall

Review: John Boyega in Woyzeck, Old Vic Theatre

4487I'm going to preface this piece by pointing out that I saw a preview performance and given the nature of the production there may be an element of tightening up. Of course in prefacing this way I'm hinting that I had problems and I did, some may be resolved before the official opening next week, some might not but as this was the performance I paid to see, I can only write about my experience and impressions of the play as it was performed.

Georg Buchner's original play, which he started writing in the 1830s and never completed, isn't one I'm familiar with. In this version by Jack Thorne for the Old Vic, the action has moved from provincial Germany to 1980s cold war Berlin. Orphan Frank Woyzeck (Voy-tzeck) is a British soldier who is living in a cheap flat above an abattoir with his Catholic girlfriend Marie (Sarah Greene) with whom he has a baby. Money is tight - military digs are out of the equation as they aren't married - and Frank volunteers to take part in drug trial to earn extra so they can move somewhere better.

At the start we find him a gentle soul, devoted to Marie but it is a devotion that grows increasingly obsessive. He isn't much liked among his military colleagues after an incident on a previous tour in Belfast and as the play unfolds we learn more of that and his past.

One of the key problems with the play, for me, is that the moment Frank signs up for the drug trials I could see the rest of the story mapped out and it felt like it took too long to get there. Frank becomes increasingly unwell, mentally and physically and it takes its toll on his relationships. The more unstable he becomes the more he clings to Marie and the more their relationship becomes a crutch. 

It is also a sexually charged environment. At the beginning Frank and Marie's love-making is interrupted by the crying baby. The one person he sees as a friend, Andrews (Ben Batt), is a lothario chasing the bored wives of military colleagues. Andrews persuades Frank to let him use his flat for noisy sexual liaisons with their captain's randy wife Maggie (Nancy Carroll) and he also isn't shy about telling Frank what he thinks of Marie.

I'm not sure whether we are supposed to be shocked by the sex and nudity but that, coupled with the copious swearing, doesn't feel particularly necessary, indeed if feels like the play is trying too hard. On paper Frank is a tragic character, who had a tough childhood and is destined not to live happily ever after but the play rides too hard over that and by that I mean, I felt I should feel sorry for him but I didn't.

The actors commitment and energy is one thing that can't be faulted. I was keen to see John Boyega on stage and this role certainly tests his metal as he journeys from gentle, loving father and boyfriend to someone beset by jealousy and delusions. He is someone I hope to see a lot more on stage. Nancy Carroll was a complete surprise, not that I ever doubted her amazing acting talent, but Maggie is certainly a very different role to those she usually plays and she also doubles as Frank's mother who is another very different character.

On the Old Vic's website it lists the plays as 2 hours and 30 minutes including an interval but it came in at 2 hours 20 last night. I suspect the running time will be trimmed further - there are certainly scenes that feel a little laboured, particularly in the first half. In the end I was more bemused by the audiences reaction to certain scenes than the play itself, perhaps I just didn't engage with it as much as others. Having had a conversation with @vickster51 afterwards I think she enjoyed it more. I'm giving it three stars though. It's at the Old Vic until 24 June.