Woyzeck review – John Boyega is a powerful tragic hero

Old Vic, London
The Star Wars actor is impressive in Jack Thorne’s reworking of George Büchner’s unfinished play

George Büchner’s Woyzeck was left unfinished at the playwright’s death (at 23, in 1837), allowing its fragments to be pieced together in new ways for each generation. Joe Murphy’s direction of Jack Thorne’s newly commissioned version of the play is a brutal interpretation for our times. Woyzeck, the archetypal working-class tragic hero, is a British soldier stationed in Berlin with his girlfriend Marie and baby daughter in the years before the Wall came down.

The title role is inhabited with enormous physical and emotional power by John Boyega – lately leading man of the Star Wars film franchise. His descent into madness is accelerated by his imprisoning love for Marie (a defiant Sarah Greene) and spiralling debts. Thorne adds a layer of childhood trauma to Woyzeck’s internal drama, making him the orphaned child of a prostitute. This gives a relentless drumbeat to the play’s preoccupations with grunting sex (most memorably from Woyzeck’s fellow squaddie, played by a wolfish Ben Batt) and the inevitable shock of its last act. Murphy’s production sometimes seems too desperate to locate only a rawness in the human condition, however, which means that at its greatest dramatic moments it does not always ring true.

• Woyzeck is at the Old Vic, London, until 24 June


Tim Adams

The GuardianTramp

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