Thursday, February 5, 2009

Review: Woyzeck

by Georg Büchner
Adapted by Gisli Örn Gardarsson
January 31st to February 28th
Merlyn Theatre
The Malthouse

Seems as if I'm the first cab off the rank here. I am not, I confess, an institution enough to warrant a ticket to the season proper and it was a preview that I attended. 
Humbled and overawed.  
So let's get Nick Cave and Warren Ellis out of the way: the music is great. I would've liked to have heard it as a set. In relation to Woyzeck itself, as an extension and addition to the material, I prefer Mr. Waits' Blood Money. But maybe that's just me. And I didn't see the Wilson and, I admit, things can oftentimes take on mythic proportions in my imagination, oftentimes I tell you.
So, yeah, the music's good and the cast perform it well.
One more admission is that apart from Herzog's film, I have never previously seen Woyzeck. 
Me and my friend almost didn't make it, too. We both had arrived at Melbourne Airport at 6pm, after a day in Tasmania (another story)  and the show started at 6:30 so we were weaving through the traffic to get there. And after a brief, inadvertent detour across the Westgate Bridge toward Geelong (I've told you about my sense of direction), I was in disbelief when it looked like we were going to make it. "We're going to make it!" "Don't say that" "But we are. We've got like 15 minutes and we're just around the corner!" "Anything could happen. We could break down." "I'd just put my hazard lights on and leave the car."
Then I went through a red light and almost killed us.

This goddamned show. What, I ask you, has happened to Michael Kantor? In my formative years I saw Kantor's Caucasian Chalk Circle, Ubu and The Ham Funeral at Belvoir and they excited me like a kid high on Whizz Fizz and skittles. 
Woyzeck, in comparison, was staged so unimaginatively and the production as a whole suffered from the Bell Shakespeares and was filled with "cultural references" so that we could understand who everyone was. But the thing with these references, be they military uniforms or plastic outdoor chairs, they're so shallow. By which I mean, they are visual references only. 
So, hands up who's sick of seeing puncy, floppy, insipid actors dressed as soldiers and carrying on like a bunch of emos? (Let's have a little competition for the best collective noun for emos. A gaunt? A slash?)
You'd think that Soundtrack to a War had never been made. Their collective idea of soldiers is exactly what I would have come up with whilst waiting for my coffee to brew. And that's not why I go to the theatre. 
These visual references give us nothing experiential. They don't challenge our perceptions, they don't add to our empathy, they aren't artistically imaginative or extending in any way. We see them in the manner in which we've always seen them. That's it. See. We don't learn anything. We don't empathise. These kind of shallow cultural references are lazy. The only purpose they serve is to compound stereotypes.
I'm also really sick of watching actors getting so into themselves, into their hair, or their amazing guitar skills that they forget to experience anything, to connect, to react to anyone.
Bojana Novokovic was fantastic. Watching her, I believed (unlike most of the actors) that she has actually been through stuff in her life. Tim Rogers has that too, in spades. 
But where on earth did the idea to add an intervening narrator of sorts to this play come from? What the heck? This conceit is bizarre. I can't imagine the reasoning behind it. Dramaturgically, I found it very discombobulating. To have an sort of emcee, a puppeteer, a trickster just adds to the general miasma that this production became. I guess it also didn't help that Rogers seems to have been directed as has every high school Puck of the last decade or so: lurking mischievously and somewhat sinisterly upstage throughout most of the action. I guess it also didn't help that his role seems to have diminished throughout the production.   
And the production's representation of the aspirational was just condescending. There was no mirror to society, which I imagine there can be in Woyzeck, just a lot of self-satisfied condescending representations of people who we are supposed to believe we are better than, because they think they are better than Woyzeck. I mean what in the hell is the point if Büchner doesn't mean for us to examine our own desire to victimize and be on the top of the heap? Is Woyzeck not an allegory about chaos and social Darwinism and class and being driven into reprehensible actions? Am I an idiot? Tell me, I may learn.

And while you're at it, tell me how is this different from the MTC staging a play with Guy Pearce and the music of Tim Finn? The target audience is just a little younger here, that's all. It's the same godforsaken thing.  

1 comment:

kate said...

well long sentence, too long for me to read it, and tiny type. you don't even have any novelty photos. where are the photos with people in them? ok, now I'll read your blog! x