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Theatre review: Woyzeck on the Highveld!

UNIQUE: Woyzeck on the Highveld

LAST NIGHT (September 6), London’s Barbican had a chill to it, as the new performance of Woyzeck on the Highveld opened its UK tour.

A desperate tale of hypocrisy, madness and murder, the play is the latest work from South Africa’s Handspring Puppet Company, famed for the critically acclaimed production, War Horse.

Based on the unfinished play written by German dramatist Georg Buchner, and complimented with an animated film by South African artist William Kendridge, Woyzeck is brought to life through Handspring’s unique puppets, creating a unique theatrical experience.

The production tells the story of a mentally tormented servant in a bleak South African mining town, who finds out his wife is committing adultery. The affair leads to Woyzeck becoming the fool of the town, which subsequently feeds his murderous intent, to a very tragic end.

At first, the lack of facial expression on the puppets is quite evident; their reactionary delay reminds you that they are props, not people. However, the Handspring Puppet Company bring the puppets to life, as they manoeuvre the figures with such discipline and grace that the exposed puppet masters blend into the set.

The mental frailty of a black worker stuck in a desolate and unforgiving place, as he tries to make sense of his harsh existence, is a delicate story to tell but it is executed superbly by the cast and the production.

Mncedisi Shabangu is the only actor in the play; his human interaction with the puppets enforces the realness of the hand-manipulated dolls, whose carved features expertly portray the desperation that the ‘characters’ feel throughout the play.

This puppet show is not like any you may have seen. It is dark, cold and full of hopeless emotion, but it is well worth the view.

Woyzeck on the Highveld continues at the Barbican until September10, before embarking on a UK tour. For more details, visit

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