Sadari Movement Laboratory – Woyzeck

Mime version of the Novel by Georg Büchner
Music by Astor Piazzolla

Sadari Movement Laboratory

Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse

Reviewed: 24 January, 2008
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Queen Elizabeth Hall

The London International Mime Festival always has a place for the innovative or the provocative, and this performance by South Korea’s Sadari Movement Laboratory was certainly not lacking in either.

The choice of subject was a good one, as “Woyzeck” – the final play by Georg Büchner (1804-37) – is little more than a loose assembly of (27) scenes that often resemble stage directions or cue sheets more than dramatic dialogue. Understandable that Alban Berg should have been highly interventionist when fashioning the libretto of his seminal opera “Wozzeck”, though anyone familiar with Manfred Gürlitt’s later treatment will know his to be much closer to the stripped-down anarchy of Büchner’sdrama. While not following the play literally, Sadari has remained even more faithful to its spirit.

Lasting for just over an hour, its presentation consists of 13 sections that unfold more or less continuously, with each one being introduced by an overhead surtitle identifying place and action. This being a mimed performance means that little spoken material has been retained; most of what is has been translated into Korean, but significant lines (most of them immediately recognisable from those earlier sources) are given – clearly and characterfully – in English, so providing a means of orientation during what is an often dizzyingly hectic traversal of Büchner’s drama, whose pathos is yet made the more so by Sadari’s refusal to indulge in any but the rawest and most immediate kind of compassion.

Do-Wan Im (founder of Sadari) here directs a visually arresting production – in which chairs, as the only stage-prop, are deployed in every way from an instrument of torture to a means of seduction; the robotic imagery enhanced by Hae-Ju Kim’s costumes and Song-Wha Chae’s make-up, and given focus by Tae-Hwan Gu’s alternately lurid and monochrome lighting.

The principals are formidably assured. Jae-Won Kwon is a Woyzeck whose lack of guile and susceptibility to delusion make him an inevitable loser in a social context that is little more than a fight for survival. Eun-Young Joung brings mesmeric sensuousness to Marie, able to move between men with no sense of betrayal – hence her enraptured manner when with Woyzeck prior to her murder. Chang-Seok Ko is a boorish Captain, concerned only with his own dissipation, Won-Kil Paek’s Doctor is an experimenter of truly psychotic coldness, and Woo-Chul Lim a handsome, athletic Sergeant-Major – viciously arrogant in his humiliation of Woyzeck.

The use of music by Astor Piazzolla is a conceptual gamble that succeeds brilliantly – ensuring the production has an ongoing evenness of movement to complement the often manic visual activity, and endowing the most angular gestures with a suavity and allure that adds to the overall sense of decadence. Whether or not you are familiar with “Woyzeck” in a previous incarnation, this is a singular conception that presents it in a revelatory new light.

  • Further performances on January 25 (at 7.30 p.m.) & 26 (at 5 p.m.)

  • Southbank Centre

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