Woyzeck Marie is a punchy, queer, feminist, class-analysis adaptation of Georg Buchner’s unfinished 1836 play about a soldier caught in a military experiment where he is forced to eat nothing but peas. The original is something of a psychological thriller, exploring jealousy at the edge of human consciousness and medically-induced sociopathy. Bathway Theatre Company have created something truly fucking magical here – a play which retains the original themes and applies the lens of class and identity analysis to extract the good stuff. Rebellious, hardcore and punchy, this show takes us to the Falkland Islands in the 1980s and puts Woyzeck’s victim, Marie, at the focus.
The play is filled with a litany of oddball characters dumped at the edge of the world to fight for Queen and Country. More importantly, the play shows how hell-bent they are on turning High School Drama into their only lived experience, with deadly consequences. We see couples torn apart, cheating on each other and fucking anything that moves under the pretense of love. Marie, the mother of Woyzeck’s child, begins to fall to the charms of the metrosexual, vomit-inducing ladies-man Andrews as Woyzeck descends into pea-induced madness. The Captain’s wife, Margaret, is sleeping with half the squadron, but really just wants a baby of her own. Woyzeck imagines his child is a boy, when they are actually genetically female. Throughout the piece we see what appears to be a mirage of his child (or possibly a different version of Woyzeck himself?) grow in resentment, physically battling him to the death at the end.
Behind the drama-between-couples is a genuinely genius ethos about poverty, class, gender and religion which is explored tenfold through the kaleidoscopic vision of Director Meghan Loughran. Gender is explored both within the piece and in its casting – with people of all genders and visibly queer people at the fore. This is an exciting concept, showing (not telling) the piece’s relationship with gender politics. The class divide between the well-looked after military upper ranks and Marie’s living conditions as she tries to care for their child. The Captain’s approach to his soldiers is clear – as long as they are alive and can take orders then the rest of their conditions do not matter. The piece’s class lens takes focus at Thatcher herself, who appears during a smattering of sex scenes to hold up a shade that stops us from seeing the gruesome parts of human reality. In fact, all of the characters spend time lifting up a shade on their gruesome realities, hiding the truth from those around them. Well, that’s all until Woyzeck starts baptising himself with a can of mushy peas.
The piece’s central message is messy, unclear, but this is not a bad thing. It takes scattergun aim at systemic poverty, sectarianism, misogyny and blasts, leaving the audience staring at the detritus and extracting their own meaning from it. It should be said alongside this that the piece is genuinely very funny at moments – not a comedy per se, but so outlandish and outrageous that you’re left staring into the abyss to such an extent that you can’t help but laugh. Plus, some old couple that had clearly wandered in expecting a very serious adaptation of Woyzeck walked out halfway – which always proves that you’re doing the right thing.
Woyzeck Marie is a Death in the Afternoon – violently potent with an edge that will leave you giddy, and possibly staring into the abyss. Woyzeck Marie is one of the few Fringe pieces I’ve seen this year that is genuinely out there, trying something completely madcap with a righteous lens of class analysis and revolutionary spirit. Hardcore, rebellious and raw to the very end.
Woyzeck Marie at TheSpace on the Mile, Space 3, until August 27th (not the 21st) at 18:35. Tickets are available through the EdFringe Box Office.