REVIEW: Woyzeck in Winter

Galway International Arts Festival

***

Woyzeck is, among other things, a play about an impoverished soldier preyed upon by a mad scientist. It’s appropriate, then, that this new take on Buchner’s classic play is presided over by an equivalent mad scientist of sorts — director Conall Morrison — who has diced and spliced the play together with songs from Schubert’s famous cycle Die Winterreise. The result — a deliriously overwrought Woyzeckstein — finds its feet very effectively.

The show is brimming with beautiful music and some fine performances. There is, nevertheless, a nagging sense that it never quite ascends the scale of its own ambition.

This may in part stem from under-use of the set. The set design — comprised of a Babel-like tower of old pianos piled one atop the other — is very suggestive, but the lighting decisions early in the show often leave the backdrop engulfed in too much darkness. Once the feverish plot kicks in and the fates of the tormented Woyzeck (Patrick O’Kane) and his unfaithful mistress Marie (Camille O’Sullivan) are sealed, the production grows in intensity, and the songs start to bristle with an ominous sense of predestination.

Conor Linehan merits praise for his live piano accompaniment throughout. The show’s use of Schubert’s songs — with translations by Stephen Clark from the original German — at times adds a deluge of pathos that somewhat dulls the serrated psychological edges of Woyzeck.

But then this is a new monster, a winter wonder Woyzeck, and on its own terms, it works very well. Certainly, it builds to a gripping climax. Unsurprisingly, O’Sullivan’s songs are the most affecting. As a singer, she has a knack of finding precisely where the emotion is in any given line.

Morrison also does well to find conceptual overlaps between the two works he has spliced together.

Thus, Barry McGovern is at once the sinister doctor who exploits Woyzeck and the ominous crow that tracks Schubert’s winter wanderer.


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