Monday, September 12, 2011

Woyzeck on the Highveld

As so often, I am hugely grateful to the Barbican's programmers for the chance to see a legendary piece of theatre. I'd known about William Kentridge's work with Handspring puppets for years (I mean, Handspring did War Horse, right?) - but never had the chance to see these pieces, which are so powerfully embedded in the early years of South Africa after Mandela's release, at the same time as drawing off European classics. Ubu and the Truth Commission is the most famous (and I missed it at LIFT all those years ago), but Woyzeck on the Highveld was actually first, and in many ways defined the new theatrical language of puppetry for adults which has become so important in recent years.

In spite of being nearly 20 years old, the production feels incredibly contemporary and immediate. I loved the combination of puppet performance (often with the puppeteers thrillingly visible, their intense concentration a model to us all), with scratchy charcoal animation and equally scratchy music. You could see exactly how everything was done, and that made it all the more magical. Magic in the theatre happens when the audience does know how something is achieved. You don't need high-tech: you just need concentration and integrity.

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