Real Live Action

Real Live Action: Woyzeck (Play)


Red Gate Revue Stage; September 18, 2022

Zainab Fatima

Antecedental Theatre’s production Woyzeck was one of the plays presented at this year’s Vancouver Fringe Festival. What drew me to this show was that it was originally written by Georg Büchner nearly 200 years ago, and was apparently one of the first plays that focused on the working class. 

The play centres around Woyzeck, a man with numerous jobs whose mental health increasingly deteriorates as he struggles to provide for his family. I was highly interested in watching something that focuses on the struggle and perspective of the working class — especially because of COVID-19 and its impact on the economy. Sure enough, Woyzeck delivers.

Starting with the set — the smoke and minimal props establish the ambiance for the bleak subject matter. Dark tones combined with stark lighting and occasional loud sound effects were essential components to portraying Woyzeck’s escalating emotional state.  

We see Woyzeck explain his perspective as a member of the working class and the dismissive reaction his remarks receive from the upper class. On multiple occasions the show discusses the idea of a “good” person, which reminded me of the types of conversations we might see in the media today— where instead of addressing systemic conditions that place the lower class at a perpetual disadvantage, often the narrative is about a “lack of work ethic.” 

The show also comments on this through the symbolic use of animals. In one scene Woyzeck is in the street with his wife, where they witness animals being presented as spectacles, as if in a circus. Considering that animals in show business are almost always overworked and denied basic rights, the parallels between this exhibit and Woyzeck’s life are undeniable. 

Along with this, Woyzeck further dives into how in the working class experiences differ between the sexes, as demonstrated through Woyzeck and his wife’s relationship. While Woyzeck is portrayed perpetually working or undergoing medical tests in hopes of earning extra money, his wife is criticized other women, and a camera follows her when she is alone. A female-centred lens is added to the narrative: one that explores the constant judgement of women, the male gaze, and the desire to be loved. 

As Woyzeck’s marriage worsens, so does his mental health. Although early scenes showed him struggling, the breaking point was finding out about his wife’s infidelity. We get a glimpse into how both individual’s emotional needs are neglected as they try to survive in an environment that repeatedly dehumanizes them.

In the end, Woyzeck is left with nothing. I find this to be very apt commentary on the despair of living in a world that does not value human labour, or one that prioritizes profit over people’s wellness.