Woyzeck in Winter: A male mind sent brutally out of tune

Woyzeck and Schubert meet in a lambent, music-hall spectacle

Patrick O’Kane as Woyzeck and Shane O’Reilly as Andres in Woyzeck in Winter, which  opened at the Black Box Theatre  as part of the Galway International Arts Festival.  Photograph:  Colm Hogan

Patrick O’Kane as Woyzeck and Shane O’Reilly as Andres in Woyzeck in Winter, which opened at the Black Box Theatre as part of the Galway International Arts Festival. Photograph: Colm Hogan

 

Black Box Theatre, Galway

★★★

Among the authoritarians and professionals we encounter in Woyzeck in Winter – the captains and sergeants and doctors – it hardly seems coincidental that a more valid human insight comes from a scabrous showman.

Applauding a horse’s easy capitulation to the call of nature, Rory Nolan’s ringmaster brays a lesson with heavy irony: “The moral is, Man be natural.” If the war between brute desire and civil society, or the id and ego, so torments the mind, “why be more than you are?”

The tragedy in Georg Büchner’s Woyzeck erupts because his protagonist – short in intelligence, debased by poverty and twisted by sexual jealousy – can’t be anything more than he is. Frazzled, trampled and finally demented, he is a pent-up rage ready to explode.

In director Conall Morrison’s considered adaptation for Landmark Productions and the Galway International Arts Festival, though, he is something more, now both the hero of Büchner’s proto-expressionist classic and Schubert’s song cycle Winterreise.

Folded into one another, with the assistance of Stephen Clark’s lyrics and Conor Linehan’s musical direction, they reveal a surprising correspondence between concern and mood. Perhaps too much correspondence: Woyzeck has found music before from Alban Berg’s experimental 1922 opera Wozzeck to Robert Wilson and Tom Waits’ strikingly gritty musical treatment in 2000. Here the congruence between works is as thought through as a thesis, and delivered with the persuasiveness of someone determined to prove a point.

Dismembered pianos

On Jamie Vartan’s impressively jagged landscape of dismembered pianos, climbing several storeys high, it means that a work praised for its modernity is presented like a nostalgia piece, where the clockwork march of Peter Coonan’s lascivious Drum Major, an audience-invading dancing monkey or the towering shadows of Ben Ormerod’s upturned footlights create a lambent, music-hall spectacle.

Playing live, Linehan reveals dark rumbles in Schubert’s compositions, over which Patrick O’Kane’s pained Woyzeck and Camille O’Sullivan’s besieged Marie sing reflections that Büchner never provided. But like the pretty spectacle of gently falling snow, it supplies little compelling friction. To hear O’Sullivan lustily singing towards her demise, moreover, doesn’t make Maria seem any less a bystander in the tragedy of a male mind sent brutally out of tune.

In the haunting figure of Rosaleen Linehan’s Hurdy Gurdy Man, the world still grinds mercilessly on, but there’s something unsatisfying in the discrepancy between a man who cannot reconcile his competing voices and a production that so neatly can.

Runs until July 23rd