Mime: Not even a script could save us now


BILLED AS "a free adaptation", Josef Nadj's version of Woyzeck, which launches this year's London International Mime Festival, is so free as to render Buchner's seminal play almost unrecognisable. Nadj and his company - Le Centre Choreographique National d'Orleans - display an oblique fidelity towards the work's unhinged, absurdist spirit while banishing every letter of the text, apart from a croaked whisper of the misfortunate protagonist's name. The result is an astonishing series of feverishly intense images that refuses to cohere into an interpretable narrative.

You could argue that the beauty of Buchner's original is that it plays fast and loose with sense. Every production of it is necessarily partial, given that the playwright left behind four incomplete versions, scrawled between 1836 and 1837, at the time of his death from typhus at the age of 23. Moreover, in the untrammelled rumination and wayward sentiment crammed into the brief, extant scenes, lie the ambiguities that have helped sustain Buchner's posthumously established critical reputation.

But even the slightest certainties of story and character have been eradicated here. If you were guided by the programme notes alone, you wouldn't even know the gist: that Woyzeck is a poor military barber who, prompted by a jealous heart and despairing existential visions (possibly induced by being on a forced diet of peas), stabs to death his common-law wife, Marie - seen consorting with a drum-major.

The seven performers, including Nadj, do not take named parts; instead, they form a kind of avant - garde collective bound together by an outlandish, clay-spattered dress code (blue face-paint preferable) and lunatic behaviour.

There is one female player, who is the focus of sexually suggestive and threatening attention; but as to whether she dies, it's hard to say - at the end of 60 minutes, she is carried off, still sitting on a chair.

At the start, the statuesque forms ranged across the rustic interior, which centres on a rickety table and chairs and is overarched by dangling contraptions, thaw into life, to the cracked recording of a cymbalon. In one corner, a hunchback chisels a block of wood; at the back, sits a bound and hooded body; from nowhere there rises up a grotesque creature in a massively padded white outfit who bears an unfortunate resemblance to the Michelin Man but who is, more likely, an abstract embodiment of the play's sinister doctor.

The clownish interactions that ensue, although conducted with a magnificently precise physicality, smack heavily of padded material themselves. At their best, such as during the deafening automaton drumming of sticks on wood, they communicate the original's interest in the way humans can be viewed as inanimate objects, at the mercy of their surroundings and nature. At their worst, the routines have an homogenising effect: even the stabbings come with visual gags (bits of intestine are skewered out for our sqeamish pleasure). There will be those for whom such brilliantly realised coups de theatre are enough, but the lack of direction left me with a serious case of road rage.

To Tues, RFH (0171-960 4242). Mime festival continues to 24 Jan (0171- 637 5661)

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

Arts and Entertainment
Game of Thrones will run for ten years if HBO gets its way but showrunners have mentioned ending it after seven

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
Mans Zelmerlow will perform 'Heroes' for Sweden at the Eurovision Song Contest 2015

Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth (Heida Reed) and Ross Poldark (Aiden Turner) in the BBC's remake of their 1975 original Poldark

Poldark review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
    How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

    How to make your own Easter egg

    Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

    Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

    Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

    Cricket World Cup 2015

    Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
    The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing