Coliseum , London
Composer: Alban Berg
Director: Carrie Cracknell
This review was first published in The Public Reviews
Wozzeck marks Cracknell’s directorial debut for the ENO at the Coliseum, and this talented young woman arrives with some panache. First performed in Berlin in 1925, it was in 1988 that Berg’s demanding work was last tackled by the ENO and with a talented cast and creative team, Cracknell weaves a gripping but agonising hold over us during the heavily stylised 90 minutes that the interval-free production runs.
The story is drawn from Buchner’s Woyzeck, the troubling story of a young soldier of fragile mind and susceptible to paranoia who is bullied by his Captain, the army doctor and his Drum Major who then cuckolds him with Marie, his common law wife and the mother of a young boy. His struggles with his mental health and the abuse he suffers inevitably has tragic consequences.
Leigh Melrose is Wozzeck. Beautifully baritoned he displays a well-performed flawed grasp on reality from the outset. It is hard to watch him knowing that each challenge he encounters or humiliation he suffers is adding to the provocation that will unleash his final acts of slaughter. American Sara Jakubiak another ENO debutante is Marie, a perfect soprano , who notwithstanding her character’s lifestyle, still evokes our sympathy in her difficult relationship with Wozzeck.
Tom Scutt’s set design is as imaginative as it is convincing. Marie’s cramped flat set above the noisy pub suggests the poverty that she and Wozzeck endure and in the climactic finale, is home to some hauntingly visceral imagery. None more so than Harry Polden as her young son, donning his schoolboy rucksack and heading out into the world. Cracknell bleakly indicating that this cycle of violent abusive behaviour is only destined to continue.
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