On 22 Jan, Liverpool-based theatre company Old Fruit Jar Productions bring Jack Thorne’s adaptation of Woyzeck to the Hope Street Theatre. We spoke to director Alex Carr about the project.
Tell me a bit more about Old Fruit Jar Productions.
Old Fruit Jar Productions is a Liverpool based production company, founded in early 2019 by like-minded creatives, we aim to produce high-quality productions within the theatre and film industry in the North West.
As a company, we thrive on telling stories, and showcasing our collective talent for all things arts, and look to tell these stories in the most creative, engaging, and thought-provoking ways possible.
Woyzeck was first written in the 1830s and first performed in 1913. Why do you think the play endures, even now?
Above all else, Woyzeck is the story of one man, beaten down by the system he serves and left to struggle with his own insecurity and mental instability. It’s sad to say but there are still dozens of cases like this now, be they let down by the government, or their parents, or the health system – it’s something we see on the news, or online, or even in our own lives on a daily basis. It’s hard to ignore. So when a story taps into that, I think there’s something remarkable about it.
Woyzeck endures because it’s real: it’s happening right now, and it was happening long before the play was written, and it will be happening long after.
Woyzeck, despite being famously unfinished, has been adapted several times and in several formats. Do you think its unfinished-ness helps the adaptation process?
Woyzeck is a fascinating story, based on a real-life soldier. It was written in the 1830s by Georg Büchner, but after his untimely death it remained unfinished – and has since been given endings by several writers and directors. It’s been an opera, a Werner Herzog film…the play’s fragmented state leaves a lot for the mind to fill in the blanks, and I think that’s what draws a lot of people into the story. It allows for a level of creative freedom and allows directors to add their own stamp onto the story.
Even working from the Jack Thorne adaptation, which is his complete version of the play, there is a lot left up to me as director, and the audience, to decipher.
What drew you specifically to Jack Thorne’s adaptation?
Jack Thorne’s adaptation is set in 1980s Berlin and is about a British soldier struggling to make a life for his girlfriend and child. I think the contemporary setting is fascinating in itself. There are a lot of parallels to be drawn between the divide in Germany during the Cold War and the huge divide between the working class and the Government in 1980s Liverpool. This version even has a character called Maggie (three guesses who she might represent).
But more than that, upon reading the script I found it to be much more heart-breaking and painfully relevant than other adaptations, and Thorne has a magnificent way with words that really makes this script quite powerful. Its intensity, its power, and the fiery, beating heart at its core really drew me into this production.
How did it come about that you were able to bring the show to Liverpool?
It’s something that Jordan (who plays Woyzeck) and I have been discussing for a while. He performed an abridged version of the show at university a few years back and we’ve been desperate to have a go ourselves! It basically meant hounding the licensing people at Nick Hern Books to try and acquire the rights to perform this particular version: thankfully they agreed and despite the license being restricted, we’ve secured a four-night run at The Hope Street Theatre between 22-25 Jan.
It’s important to us as a company to bring this show to Liverpool. We think it draws a lot of parallels to what happened here in the city in the 1980s, and to the country as a whole in the present social and political climate. We’re incredibly excited to be bringing it to a Liverpool audience.
What are the unique challenges of staging a West End show outside London, and being the first company to do so? Do you feel a specific pressure?
There is pressure, yes. It’s a very intense and intelligent show, so we have the pressure of bringing that to the stage in a competent and professional way. This is also our first show as a production company so it’s really ‘go big or go home!’
As this particular adaptation has only been previously performed on the West End, there is very little in the way of information about the production in terms of visual style or character interpretations. It’s been very interesting to not have those things to research to help us along the way: instead, we’ve had to build our own world, with only the script in hand – but as I said earlier, I think that allows us a certain artistic license! We all agreed it was a blessing to not know how certain things were done, and it’s been a rewarding and thought-provoking process to develop Woyzeck from the ground up.
We’ve even spoken to (writer) Jack Thorne and there’s a possibility he might come along, so there’s that pressure too!
Your press materials mention that your production demands audience engagement and is ‘brutally honest’ in its portrayals. Can you tell us more about this?
Woyzeck is a victim of society; driven to madness by his involuntary inability to provide for his family, and his struggle to stay sane forces him to make some difficult decisions. The script doesn’t mess around when it comes to things like violence, or sex, or bad language. It shines a light on the ugly things in life and forces the audience to acknowledge their existence. We’re taking it a step further. It’s not a show for the faint-hearted.
Woyzeck has a message, and we’re drumming that into our audience. In the current political climate, people up and down the country are being forgotten, or falling through the system completely unsupported. Liverpool is a tinderbox of energy and political activism – we want to spark that box and incite people to make a change, to make sure that this tragic, horrible story does not continue to happen.
We cannot allow people to fall victim to consumerism and feel they need to have tons of money to buy happiness, or safety, or security. It’s love, companionship, being a decent human being that allows us to live peacefully – people help people, not money or a hierarchy.
I want my audience to go home thinking about that. I want them to feel like they can make their voice heard and people are listening. With Woyzeck, we want to make a change.
Our first performance on January 22 will be in aid of the charity YoungMinds UK, who strive to improve the living conditions of young people who are mentally ill or suffer from mental health issues.
How are rehearsals going?
We’ve been rehearsing for a couple of months now; really developing the show and working on characters, costumes, and set design. It’s all very exciting. There’s a big, choreographed fight sequence towards the end and it’s been amazing to see the cast really throw themselves at it!
It’s a heavy show: it demands a lot from the cast, and there are times when all we want to do is just cuddle up and have a big group cry, but we just channel that energy into the piece. I’ve been moved to tears watching some of the rehearsals – I can only imagine what it’ll be like on stage.
Woyzeck opens on 22 Jan at Hope Street Theatre. Tickets are available here.