Woyzeck | Malthouse TheatrePhoto - Jeff Busby

Woyzeck, written by Georg Büchner, is the story of a disturbed soldier who discovers his wife’s infidelity and murders her. Never finished, it remains in four incomplete drafts, and is now considered the first ‘modern’ drama.

To be honest, the phrase, ‘modern’ drama, always makes me a little weary. A movement which began as a reaction against the idea of theatrical tradition, seems, in the twenty-first century, to itself have become a tradition weighted with its own clichés. It is disappointing that the Malthouse Theatre’s production of Woyzeck, too, seems to settle for what have now become predictable cheap tricks. Despite the blinding contemporary relevance of Büchner’s text, the production lacked power and bite.

Directed by Michael Kantor, this production intertwines originally composed songs by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis into the fragmentary framework of the text. The songs hold the production together, creating a wonderfully sinister atmosphere. The opening attack of the musicians (Simon Burke, Xani Kolac, Dan Witton) dressed in combat military attire was striking in its dissonance – the harsh electro-rock of the guitar jarring with the lyrical melodies of the violin, and the playful plucking of the mandolin by Tim Rogers, as The Entertainer (a clever character addition by Kantor).

Rogers, ‘You Am I’ frontman, has an intense charisma and easy shining presence on the stage. The raw, fragile beauty of his voice created a foreboding sense of threat as he played with Woyzeck’s (Socratis Otto) destiny and the audience’s expectations. Rogers’ ease provided a lovely relief from the often self-conscious theatricality of much of the rest of the production.

As Woyzeck, Otto’s performance needed a stronger connection to the psychological world of the character; his portrayal provided only glimpses of Woyzeck’s psychosis and utter brokenness. Bojana Novakovic, however, as Woyzeck’s wife Marie, struck the perfect balance between a delightful sense of playfulness and the sharp emotional intensity needed to tell the story.

At the end of the play, Woyzeck questions and accuses us – ‘you think I’m a murderer?’.  I sat in my comfy seat knowing that I, too, was supposed to feel like a murderer. But the thing is – I didn’t.

The force of the accusation (and of the production) seemed lost somewhere in its musty understanding of ‘modern’.

Malthouse Theatre Presents
by Georg Büchner | adapted by Gisli Örn Gardarsson

Director Michael Kantor

Venue: The C.U.B. Malthouse | 113 Sturt Street, Southbank
Dates: Jan 31 - Feb 28
Duration: 90 Mins
Bookings/Info: malthousetheatre.com.au

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