Another Chance to See HAODS Drama Festival’s Best Play

After days, hours, minutes of translating various versions and drafts and notes and commentaries…..Piers Burnell’s lifelong ambition to adapt, direct and stage one of his favourite plays, Woyzeck, finally came to fruition and will be performed again after winning Best Play at the Henley Drama Festival from tonight (30 May) to Sunday (1 June) at HAODs studio.

This classic German play by Georg Büchner, widely performed in Germany who died in 1837 aged just 23 before completing what is probably his most famous play. Loosely based on the true story of Johann Woyzeck, a Leipzig wigmaker who later became a soldier. In a fit of jealousy, he murdered his lover, Christiane Woost and was later publicly beheaded. The play was found in four bundles of twenty or so scenes (some versions range from twenty-two to twenty-eight, including scene fragments) but remained unpublished until 1879 and not performed until 1913. There was no obvious order to them and his handwriting was poor. Three bundles were interpreted as drafts and the fourth, more likely to be the play, was still inconclusive. The play allows Directors, within reason, to be editors and therefore permitted to move scenes about or delete them or even add to them. So Piers had his work cut out

Various performances with different scene orders both full versions and slightly edited versions have been performed. With the help of a German speaker, Piers translated the German versions plus drafts and commentaries and created a new abridged adaptation to be performed as a One Act play with emphasis on language and character. He has explored the language and, in parts, added, edited, and reworded where he felt necessary to keep the piece focused and true to the essence and spirit of Büchner’s ideas. He has amalgamated a few characters into one to heighten and intensify the relationships and dynamics between them without compromising plot – in fact, the simplicity of this version, in which  some scenes are excluded, mainly the fragments, have added to the story.

If one of the themes is the dehumanisation of Woyzeck then perhaps there can be elements of humanising other characters. It is no coincidence that some characters are known only by their work title and not given name. It is society driving a person to the edge of madness and towards a violent conclusion. Woyzeck is a tragedy illustrating the way workers are forced, through endless work and pittance pay, to sacrifice their own mental and physical health to try and survive.

If the horse on show here is a metamorphosed human being, Woyzeck is a metamorphosed animal, a lower-class trick ass to serve and entertain his betters but denied his humanity. This adaption explores the darker sides of humanity and embraces the bleakness of Woyzeck’s violent, erotic, abusive and inhumane world which still exists in the modern world.

Büchner’s literary achievements, though few in number, are generally held in great esteem in Germany and it is widely believed that, had it not been for his early death, he might have joined such central German literary figures as Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Friedrich Schiller at the summit of their profession.

Tickets £12 from 



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