Last night we saw Woyzeck on the Higveld at the Baxter Theatre. What magic! A combination of the breathtaking puppetry of the Handspring Puppet Company and William Kentridge‘s animated charcoal drawings. The puppets were near life size, each manipulated by two puppeteers, and the animation were projected on the screen behind them.
There are so many layers to this show. The puppets themselves are more intensly alive than actors could be. I would love to have a closer look at them, the brooding Woyzec, the stately Maria and her baby, the creepy doctor – each with their pair of puppeteers moving and living with them.
At the heart of the show are the puppeteers, deeply involved in their puppets, gazing at their faces while manipulating their movements, moving with them, being their voices. Sometimes you did not know whether to look at the puppet or the puppeteer, as both fascinated.
Then there are the animations. They are the familiar charcoal animations by Kentridge projected on a screen behind the action. Sometimes they set the scene with a landscape or an interior. Sometimes they depict the inner state of a character. At times they took on a Goya’esque quality; always dark, visceral, beautyfully drawn.
Sound added another dimension – the music in this show is particularly powerful.
Sometimes all of these elements together overpowered me. My intellect was engaged, but my self wished for a quieter space. I loved the way in which the animations would depict first the outer, then the inner world of the puppets and there were some memorable scenes. Woyzeck laying a table while behind him his delusions are projected large. The Doctor and the Master’s cigarette smoke sensually entertwining. But at times I recognised too many of Kentridges familiar themes, and wished I could focus only on the puppets themselves.
But these are small quibbles. The sight of Woyzeck preparing for the end of his life, unpacking his posessions and looking so carefully at each of his photographs wrenched my heart. And that little baby! I will always remember the little baby, with no father and no mother, traveling up from the friendless earth, to the moon, to the sun, to the stars, lookin in vain for love in a cold world.