Woyzeck meets Dr Caligari.

The 1920 silent horror movie The Cabinet of Dr Caligari is widely regarded as the film that kick started the whole Horror genre and most certainly the Expressionist movement in German cinema.  It was written by the two young writers Hans Janowitz and Carl Mayer between them they came up with a script that was strongly influenced by their own experiences.  This film at the time was unique because most of the films that were being made at the time were mainly based on novels and stage plays rather than a script specifically created for film.  But what has this got to do with our production of Woyzeck I hear you cry.  Are you sitting comfortably?  Good, well I’ll explain….

The groups aim for the final production of Woyzeck is to create something that is un-nerving and quite scary.  The idea is, is that the audience will experience the events of the play from Woyzeck’s point of view.  To achieve this we want Woyzeck to be the only naturalistic character on the stage and the other characters and the world around him gets more mad and distorted as he descends into madness.  To achieve this I have looked at other productions that use slightly odd designs to create a strange and distorted world for the characters to exist in and The Cabinet of Dr Caligari is a brilliant example.

 Despite being written a bit over 80 years apart there are some striking similarities between Woyzeck and the good Doctor.  For instance both pieces deal with insanity – Dr Caligari dives into the realms of human insanity whereas Woyzeck is almost railroaded to insanity by those around him.  Woyzeck is subjected to constant abuse and humiliation by his superiors, who seem to enjoy taking advantage of his poor man status which in turn is one of the contributing factors that drive him to madness.  Woyzeck can be seen as being anti-authoritarian in that it makes a very strong case for the idea that the upper classes and those in power drive the poor and less fortunate down a path that is not of their choosing and from which there is no return.  One other but seemingly trivial similarity between Woyzeck and Dr Caligari is the presence of the fairground.  Trivial I know however it does seem to be the start of the problems experienced by the characters.  In Woyzeck it is the place where the Drum Major first notices Marie and so it escalates into something more serious.  Likewise in the world of Dr Caligari the travelling show brings with it something of a killing spree.  The arrival of the fair/ carnival could be symbolic in itself in that a carnival or The Feast of Fools (as it was known as in medieval times) is a time and place where normal rules are suspended and chaos reigns.  So in some respects this could be another way of the rich and powerful degrading the poor and weak because the poor have no morals or decency and at a carnival those two things defiantly went right out the window.  On the other hand of course it gave the rich every excuse to indulge in activities that are not decent or morally sound.

The aspects of the Dr Caligari film that are of specific interest to me as director is mainly the design of the film as a whole from the set to the stagy over the top acting style.  Whilst researching the film I found that the overall design is heavily influenced by the Expressionist movement and used lots of painted backcloths which were dominated by cubes and curves, even items of furniture weren’t safe from expressionist influences as it appeared very elongated to the point of almost being distorted beyond recognition.  Although we don’t plan on having too much set (at the moment) but what we do have I would very much like to have it in a similar style to Dr Caligari.  This along with the sound and lighting effects will have an unnerving and disorientating effect on the audience and help them see the story from Woyzeck’s point of view.  Dr Caligari uses a prologue and epilogue as a framing device for the story “Framing the story with a prologue and an epilogue made it a story told by a mad man.”  (http://www.leninimports.com/cabinet_of_dr_caliga.html   In this instance we could possibly use this technique to frame our production of Woyzeck.

Over the years Dr Caligari has influenced many film makers “Tim Burton used Cesare as a model for Edward Scissorhands – tall, thin, stark white face, racoon ringed eyes and skin tight black on black outfit” (John Bastian http://www.filmmonthly.com/Silents/Articles/Caligari/Caligari.html)  Tim Burton is not the only person who has used the film as influences for their characters.  In the film Something Wicked This Way Comes it is suggested that Jonathon Pryce used Dr Caligari as a visual for his character Mr Dark.  The appearance of Dr Caligari is memorable to say the least – black and white make up, wild white hair and a very dark wardrobe make him frightening and at the same time quite ridiculous.  Whilst we don’t want Woyzeck to look like Dr Caligari or Cesare we could take some ideas from them in terms of costume for the other characters such as the Doctors.

There are lots of similarities between Woyzeck and Dr Caligari which most probably are accidental but interesting all the same.  There also appears to be lots of things we can use to help give our performance a different feel to what may have already been done before.


leading up to lighting

For the lighting, we had to take into account, where we were going to set and place in the building, our 15 minute excerpt of Woyzeck. We decided on a promenade style of performance, as this felt most natural when we read through the fragmented scenes chosen. Unfortunately, this then presented a problem for lighting design, as there is only one space throughout our entire performance where specially designed lighting can be used. Therefore, we had to think carefully about the lighting that we did want to use in studio two, and the way that we wanted to use the space in order to keep up the feel of the piece.

When researching Woyzeck, my main objective was looking at the lighting, originally we looked at the filmed version of it by Werner Herzog, staring Klaus Kinski (1979). However, this performance of Woyzeck has mostly what light there would have been if the settings were real, so this was not much help as our piece is tending towards the strange and grotesque. There were other productions that did use strange lighting, such as the production by Vesturport. I have included some of the photos from this production here;


Their production used mainly steely blues, often interspersed with shafts of clinical white light. To highlight the more sensual scenes a more heated colour theme was used, this time mostly oranges, reds and rich pinks. The range of lighting that they used shows the advantages of having a theatre sized rig that is specially designed for your production, as ours is in studio two in the Lpac, we cannot achieve such a variety of lighting. However, that is not to say that our lighting effects will not be as effective as theirs. Our lighting will reflect the way that Woyzeck’s mind is working, (or not working), and will also add to the grotesque feeling to our performance which will have been running throughout the entire production.

More on this will be added after our technical rehearsal has been completed.


Research – Woyzeck: Diagnosis of his illness.


Schizophrenia is a long-term mental health condition that causes a range of different psychological symptoms. These include:

  • hallucinations – hearing or seeing things that do not exist
  • delusions – unusual beliefs that are not based on reality and often contradict the evidence
  • muddled thoughts based on the hallucinations or delusions
  • changes in behaviour

Doctors describe schizophrenia as a psychotic illness. This means that sometimes a person may not be able to distinguish their own thoughts and ideas from reality.

The exact cause of schizophrenia is unknown. However, most experts believe that the condition is caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors.

How common is schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia is one of the most common serious mental health conditions. The 2000 National Survey of Psychiatric Morbidity in the UK found that 5 in 1000 people experienced a psychotic disorder (including schizophrenia and manic depression). Men and women are equally affected by the condition.

In men, schizophrenia usually begins between the ages of 15 and 30. In women, schizophrenia usually occurs later, beginning between the ages of 25 and 30.

Misconceptions about schizophrenia

Schizophrenia is often poorly understood and many people have misconceptions about it. Two of the most common misconceptions about schizophrenia are:

  • People with schizophrenia have a split or dual personality.
  • People with schizophrenia are violent.

Split personality

It is commonly thought that people with schizophrenia have a split personality, acting perfectly normally one minute and irrationally or bizarrely the next. However, this is not true. Although the term schizophrenia is a Greek word that means ‘split mind’, the term was first used long before the condition was properly understood.

It would be more accurate to say that people with schizophrenia have a mind that can experience episodes of dysfunction and disorder.

Violent crime

Most studies confirm that there is a link between violence and schizophrenia. However, the media tend to exaggerate this, with acts of violence committed by people with schizophrenia getting a great deal of high-profile media coverage. This gives the impression that such acts happen frequently when they are in fact very rare.

The reality is that violent crime is more likely to be linked to alcohol or other substance misuse than to schizophrenia. A person with schizophrenia is far more likely to be the victim of violent crime than the instigator.

Website: http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Schizophrenia/Pages/Introduction.aspx#commentCountLink (Acessed on 28/02/11)