Friday, 11 November 2011

A while ago I went to see Woyzeck on the Highveld (based on Georg Buchner's working class tradgedy Woyzeck but set in the South African mines of Apartheid) directed by William Kentridge, and performed by the Handspring Puppet Company at the Silk Street Theatre, in London.

The performance was a combination of actors, puppets, and video animation. To be honest, as a piece of theatre it didn't seem to hang together. A narrator (actor) in the foreground gives everything a political tilt, despite doing his best to be a salesman of culture, and his brusque bombastic manner jarred with the subtle movements of the puppetry. The puppetry its self often seemed out of kilter with video sceneries and backgrounds.

The funny thing is this didn't matter. I never expected there to be harmony between the different mediums, and the more remarkable thing is that sometimes there was; A puppet staring up at a night sky watching animated video images appear to him amongst the stars; A puppet walking away from the audience through an video animated shanty town of drawn shacks, rushing past on either side; the narrator demonstrating how the rhinoceros (a puppet) can be re-educated to be of use in modern society, despite being a cumbersome beast.

Nothing about the play was to do with perfection, but there truly were some perfect moments that a more perfect staging might never have achieved. There is a sense that some intricate moments were lost amongst these various elements struggling to exist side by side on stage. Even the narrative seems disrupted. But the playfulness of the piece makes otherwise difficult subjects approachable and debatable. That's not to say that it is unemotional - just that you don't necessarily have to cry or laugh with the characters. Perhaps it creates a question of whether great theatre has to 'move' us - perhaps disrupting the way we think is just as good. As I walked out of the theatre I heard a member of the audience say 'interesting, I don't really know what to think'. Is there any better praise.

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