Theatre Review: Woyzeck on the Highveld at the Barbican

War Horse creators return with life-like puppetry in this bleak tale of insanity

The Handspring Puppet Company – famed for creating the life-size horses in award-winning West End smash War Horse – has returned with a revival of this earlier tale of tortured man in an unforgiving industrial landscape.

Based on Georg B�chner’s 19th century work Woyzeck, it sees the title character transformed from the German soldier of the original to a migrant worker in Handspring’s native South Africa.

The play seamlessly blends puppetry, live action and the black and white animation of renowned artist William Kentridge, who directed the original production in 1992.

It adeptly conjures a bleak world in which Woyzeck is driven to insanity through the darkness of his surroundings and his oppressive relationships – although there are touches of light amid the gloom, including a brilliant music selection and an entertaining scene involving a performing Rhino.

It is the human puppets that steal the show. Though small in comparison to the puppeteers, they are life-like enough to focus attention.

The presence of the black-clothed puppeteers who carry them aloft is never fully forgettable, but somehow it appears as if the puppets are leading them across the stage and, like the audience, through Woyzeck’s story in what is an involving and impressive display.

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* Woyzeck on the Highveld ran at the Barbican, in Silk Street, EC2, from September 6-10.