As the world intensifies its pressures, we might well sympathise with Faransis Woyzeck. The penniless soldier of Georg Büchner’s play, premiered in 1913, gets abuse from his sergeant for not obtaining a promotion. His doctor is starving him on a strict diet of peas that are likely altering his mental wellbeing. And, agonisingly, the mother of his child seems quite taken with a drummer from the military band. Even if we don’t all have it as rough as Faransis, in 2017 many have enough miseries to choose from.
Jari Juutinen’s retelling of the drama for the Finnish company sadsongskomplex:fi, co-presented by From Start to Finnish, is flooded with reminders of contemporary unrest. Under Juutinen’s wry direction, video displays show derogatory statements referring to economic migrants, presumably from dark corners of the Internet. Ingeniously, these anonymous commentators make good fill-ins for the authoritarians of Büchner’s play.
This new production forms part of Finland’s centennial celebrations of independence, and Juutinen knows well that commemoration is as much about the present as the past. Faransis (an assured Aleksi Lolkko), in this version, steps into a less obvious war: a game show that quizzes him at length about Finnish history. He runs up such an extensive list of past battles and atrocities, you’d think people today would be more sympathetic to those devastated by war.
From here, the play uneasily segues into a meditation on modern terrorism, as our game show hosts (the deviant Liisa Sofia Pöntinen and Ani Aladashvili) become militant, and the staging plays with the iconography of torture. Faransis, now a hostage, refuses to cow to the disparaging rhetoric of the alt-right. Instead of dehumanising people of Muslim faith, he cites the overwhelming number of casualties caused by the U.S. in Iraq (Mr. Woyzeck always knew more than most about war).
As much as this stylised production aims for a damning critique of racism, it gets let down by its own ambition. The action cuts rather eclectically between monologues and dialogues, from a scene of terrorist interrogation to an episode at a border station, that it hinders any hope of real subversion. Worse, Faransis’s captors strut through their interrogation tactics without any overt repulsion, which gives the action a queasy sense of sadism.
The company also don’t have the best timing, as the play’s chilling conclusion tries to put recent displays of white nationalism in line with something that came before. Depressingly, the Nazi flags at Chalottesville beat them to it.
I Am Faransis W. is on at Summerhall until 27th August. Click here for more details.