Georg Büchner, in Germany, is considered one of the nation's greatest writers, and their most prestigious literary prize is named after him. However, productions of his plays are rare in this country, most likely to be found on university and college campuses—even during the bicentenary of his birth in 2013. That is why I was so especially keen to see the No-Win Productions' staging of his most famous play, Woyzeck, in Jeremy Duncan Pape's adaptation, entitled Woyzeck, FJF (the protagonist's initials).
A recent visit to London offered interestingly comparable back-to-back performances: Alban Berg’s opera Wozzeck at the English National Opera, London Coliseum, Saturday evening, May 25th; and the next afternoon Shakespeare’s Othello at the National Theatre. Both works center on a military man, mad from the start or driven mad as things progress, who comes to kill his lover (female) out of sexual jealousy, and then kills himself. Comparison of the two works (the Berg opera, of course, based on Georg Büchner’s play Woyzeck) can lead one into interesting thoughts on the nature of tragedy, modern tragedy versus classical tragedy, the function of character and fate in such dramas, and so on. But remarkably, these two London productions were given the same setting: the military world of the recent Iraq and current Afghanistan wars—thereby making a particular and strong point about the nature of experiential and environmental pressures upon such characters as we see.
Bloody philosophes. The French Revolution was not the most monstrous of its kind. In World War II Hitler beheaded more people with portable guillotines in Vienna than the tumbrels delivered in Paris. But it survives as a lasting emblem of the fall of reason. That the society of Voltaire and Diderot could descend into the mindless savagery of the Reign of Terror prefigured Freud’s gloomy conclusion that civilization is a thin veneer painted over atavistic brutality. In the shattering drama, Danton’s Death, the point is made more trenchantly when the hero declares that sanity itself is a fragile construction, a bubble that bursts when the true nightmare of life reveals itself. This was essentially the world view of Georg Büchner — we see it reinforced in his better-known Woyzeck (largely thanks to Alban Berg's operatic adaptation as Wozzeck), in which the schizophrenia of a common soldier is played upon by the equally mad but socially acceptable devices of his superiors.