Malthouse Theatre, 2009

Director: Michael Kantor

While this production isn’t totally awful, it is full of bombastic technological stunts that disguise directorial ineptitude. The outrageously elaborate set is the star of the show, and is a testament to the work’s high production values, which I can’t help thinking detract from the stark themes of Buchner’s classic text. This high voltage approach masks a poverty of ideas by foregrounding its rock ‘n’ roll aesthetic.

I found the music, composed by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, passable, but nowhere near as good as their score for The Proposition, nor as good as Tom Waits’ songs for Robert Wilson’s version of the Play. In many ways, the play is very similar in theme and tone to the murder ballads that Nick Cave performs so convincingly. Despite coming off second best to Waits, the music actually makes the spectacle bearable, and I was very impressed with Tim Rogers, an Australian Rock icon, who handled his musical and dramatic duties with an arrogant swagger that was the highlight of an otherwise mediocre night at the theatre. I was less than impressed by the way Kantor interpreted Buchner’s text. The play is about sex, betrayal, poverty, but these themes were often obscured by a frenetic directorial style, which alternated between being sympathetic to the play’s thematic concerns, and descending into self-indulgent pretension. I can’t help feeling that the director either didn’t understand the text, or trust it to hold the audience’s attention. He relies too heavily on gratuitous stunts to create a sense of energy and activity, but only succeeds in creating a cacophonous mess.

Woyzeck is a desperate man forced to subject himself to brutal medical experiments in order to support his lover, Marie, and their bastard child. He is a simple man who is driven partly by primal jealousy and partly by a psychotic rage that may be the result of his dietary deprivations in the name of medical science. Marie on the other hand represents the whore/Madonna stereotype. She is a mother who exhibits tender maternal feelings for her child (in at least one key scene excised from the Malthouse version) while lusting after the Drum Major — an alpha male stud in Georg Buchner’s text, but a grotesque old man in the production under review. This deliberate refashioning of Buchner’s character is just plain bizarre, for it changes a key element of the play: Marie’s active sexuality. She stares at the Drum major with lust and desire, demonstrating that the maternal coexists with the carnal. Of course, Marie’s infidelity eventually drives Woyzeck to kill his lover into a fit of murderous rage, and this one of the few scenes to hold my attention and make good use of the very expensive set. However, the director doesn’t do enough to make the audience aware of the political dimension of the act — the play’s treatment of class is lost among the silly Santa Claus costumes and other bits of theatrical frippery.

More shit I didn’t like.


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