Woyzeck, the titular character of Georg Buchner’s 1837 play, newly adapted by London director Daniel Kramer, is incontrovertibly all shook up. A lowly subaltern, he’s beset by crushing poverty, abusive superiors, and participation in a sinister science experiment that requires him eat nothing but peas. But as played by the extraordinary Edward Hogg, he’s still capable of a swiveling lip and a sneering hip when Elvis comes on the jukebox. Kramer has opted to slick up Buchner’s Prussian anomie with a glossy pomade of 1950s rock and roll.
Famously, Buchner based Woyzeck on an actual case in which a soldier murdered his common-law wife. He left the play unfinished and disarrayed at the time of his premature death, offering a special challenge for each director. It’s surprising that Kramer has chosen to author a new adaptation, since the text doesn’t seem to interest him much. The parts of scenes in which characters converse are often tedious, but as soon as someone tosses a coin in the jukebox and the music and dancing begin, the jagged elegance of Kramer’s staging instantly emerges.
In the first lines of the play, Woyzeck may worry that “Everything’s hollow,” and Kramer’s direction may not hold up to analytic rigor. But the fineness of the acting, the loveliness of the stage pictures, and the jauntiness of the soundtrack offer generous compensation. Indeed, despite what wise men may say, we can’t help falling in love with this production.