Woyzeck, Old Vic Theatre
ALL kudos to John Boyega, star of the new Star Wars franchise, who could have rested on his lightsaber ahead of the release of the latest instalment but has taken on one of the hardest roles in theatre as the eponymous Woyzeck in Georg Buchner’s tricky, unfinished 1837 play.
In Jack Thorne’s radically revised version, Boyega plays a squaddie relocated from Belfast to cold war-era West Germany where, along with his potty mouthed, sex-obsessed mate, he patrols the border while trying to raise extra cash to support his girlfriend Marie and their new born baby.
Thorne has completely re-energised Buchner’s jagged, fragmentary portrait of one man’s descent into insanity.
This Woyzcek witnessed an unspecified trauma in Belfast and grew up vainly craving his sexually abusive mother’s love. The transference of the latter on to his claustrophobic relationship with Marie (Sarah Greene) makes ugly sense of the destructive spiral in which the two are trapped.
But Thorne’s rewrite comes at a cost. The poetic suggestiveness is lost and later scenes, in which Boyega’s Woyzeck loses it, feel overcooked.
Boyega is galvanising to watch as a man tortured by his illiteracy and physically turning on himself.
There’s terrific work, too, from Nancy Carroll as a sexually ravenous army wife while Joe Murphy’s menacing production has the surreality of a dream. Make no mistake: it’s a gruelling evening.