Woyzeck by Georg Buchner, translated by Gregory Motton

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BBC Radio 3, 20 February 2011
Woyzeck (Lee Ingleby), a lowly soldier in a provincial German town, earns extra money for himself and his family by performing extra jobs for his captain (Rob Pickavance) and by agreeing to participate in medical experiments organized by a shady doctor (Jonathan Keeble). Woyzeck's world, however, is blown apart by an act of betrayal that shatters his hitherto ordered existence.
Baldly stated, this is the plot of Buchner's unfinished masterpiece - a play that, while showing the hero to be responsible for a heinous crime, nonetheless argues that much of his suffering is determined by circumstances beyond his control. Human beings have little capacity for self-determination - especially those occupying the lowest rungs of the social ladder. Buchner sympathizes with Woyzeck's plight, even while showing his destruction to be somehow inevitable.
Gary Brown's production did not attempt to impose coherence on the play, but rather presented it as a series of discrete scenes linked only by repeated musical themes (from Tom Lingard). Through this strategy Brown suggested that Woyzeck was not the only person to suffer; he was part of an entire world that could not extricate itself from pain. The doctor performed his experiments in the hope of social improvement, but found that they came to naught. The captain manipulated Woyzeck ruthlessly, while seeking to advance his military career, but all his machinations produced no results. The characters seemed endlessly bound upon the wheel of fate, unable either to escape or conquer it.
Although written as long ago as 1837, Brown managed to render Woyzeck particularly pertinent to the contemporary world, where successive financial crises have left millions of people deprived of self-determination. Like Woyzeck they seem destined to meet an inevitable - and inavriably painful - fate.