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Puppet power!

CREATIVE: The puppets in action

THE LATEST production from South Africa’s Handspring Puppet Company will begin its run at the Barbican this week, before embarking on a UK tour.

A collaboration between Handspring and celebrated South African artist William Kentridge, Woyzeck on the Highveld is based on the play of the same name by German dramatist Georg Buchner.

In Büchner’s version, lead character Woyzeck was a German soldier in the 1800s. But in this version, he’s a migrant worker in 1956 Johannesburg, a landscape of barren industrialisation.

Creators of the multi-award winning production War Horse, famed for its life size animal puppets, Handspring’s latest work sees them using their famous puppets to depict a tale of murder, jealousy and madness in the mind of Woyzeck.

Originally created in 1992 and first performed during the apartheid era, this revival of Woyzeck on the Highveld will feature rod-manipulated puppets, animation and live performance to portray the tortured mind of Woyzeck.

Mncedisi Shabangu who stars alongside the puppets, discusses some of the issues explored in the production.

“The Highveld is a mining town,” says the South African performer. “It can be anywhere in the world that has a mining population. What we’re dealing with is the human condition and the psychosis of a man who knows his wife is cheating on him and knows everyone is talking about it. People will find it very interesting.”

Shabangu admits that working with the puppet cast was initially hard work.

“The most challenging part for me was interacting with the puppets. Human responses are very impulsive and immediate, but with a puppet there is a delay because they can’t speak, so I have to delay the play so it looks natural. As an actor I had to let go and accept the puppets are as important, I had to stop being so imposing and make myself smaller.”

The puppet company has an Olivier Award and five Tony Awards for War Horse, but Shabangu explains that this production will be like nothing that has been seen before.

“Woyzeck is going to be a huge surprise to people who know Handspring, William Kendridge and War Horse. This doesn’t come close to what people know about them. It is a very beautiful and complex text, each and every line of the text is beautiful.”

Excited about performing at the Barbican, Shabangu says: “There are a few theatres that I love to perform in when I come to England, the Barbican is one and the Tricycle is another. They are such reputed institutions; they give me a hope that there is demand for South African theatre around the world.”

l Woyzeck on the Highveld will run at the Barbican from September 6-10, visit www.barbican.org.uk For full tour dates, visit www.woyzeckontour.co.uk

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