Matthew Warchus on Woyzeck

Ahead of the first preview of Woyzeck on Mon 15 May, read a little bit about the production from our Artistic Director Matthew Warchus:

‘Anyone who knows me knows that I am extremely keen on Comedy. I love to see, or be part of, an audience bound together in laughter. I particularly like situation comedy, which has a tendency to be built around quite painful crises, conflict and sadness but viewed at an angle which allows us to see the funny side. Great comedy is uplifting and mind-opening. So what about Tragedy? There are three powerful Tragedies in this season of shows (King Lear last Autumn, Woyzeck now and Girl from the North Country coming next) what do we get out of stories of suffering? What is their value and why do we need them?

Aristotle wrote that the purpose of Tragedy is to evoke a wonder born of pity and fear, the result of which is cathartic. I think its probably only cathartic because we watch it in a group. That makes a big difference. When we gather together to stare into a version of life at its worst we can find unexpected strength. In fact tragic stories, built as they are on chains of events which seem so cruel and unfair, often generate a kind of churned-up anger and defiance in an audience, tapping into our primal sense of justice and injustice. But the most effective Tragedies show us how human frailty and folly, in individuals and societies, can determine whether events play out for better or worse. There is cruelty in Tragedies, but there is humanity and truth. That is where their great value lies. And, for me, that is how they can become uplifting and mind-opening.

One definition of a classical Comedy is a story in which the main character rises and which ends in a wedding. In Woyzeck we witness the agonising downward slide of the main character towards an ending where love is utterly destroyed. Its the thwarted potential which is so devastating in this story and which is so sharply conveyed in Jack Thorne‘s new version.

Its especially exciting to me that this production is directed by this years Baylis Director, Joe Murphy. We set up the Baylis Directorship when I started my tenure at The Old Vic in order to invest in and promote some of the most exciting new directors around. Where some theatres might only offer emerging directors small-scale studio productions, the idea of this scheme is to challenge them with the responsibility of a fully-resourced main stage show. It is a very important part of my mission here to nurture and create big opportunities for new talent and in many ways I view the Baylis Director shows as the highlight of each season. Last year saw Max Webster’s production of Dr. Seusss The Lorax (a wonderful hit show which is returning later this year) and this year we have Woyzeck. Hugely contrasting pieces of theatre but both world premieres full of vitality and verve and delivered with passion from the heart.