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Woyzeck – Free Theatre

Performance, Theatre

Marian McCurdy has worked with Free Theatre for over 20 years and has managed the company since 2018 – she tells us about the latest production, Woyzeck, which opens at the Pump House on April 14.

Why Woyzeck?

Woyzeck has a long association with the company, it was actually the first project Free Theatre did in 1980. Obviously that wasn’t the Tom Waits musical – but the original play by Georg Büchner. So it’s really Free Theatre returning to a story we have a long history with.

So where does Tom Waits come in?

Tom Waits and Richard Wilson were inspired by the original text, unfinished because Büchner died writing it when he was 23. They decided to create the musical which is actually the third in a trilogy of works and Free Theatre has produced the first two, The Black Rider and Alice, in our former home in the Arts Centre. It’s great to have the opportunity to perform the final piece.

Tell us what Woyzeck is about…

It’s a very dark, tragic story set in an army barracks. It’s an avant-garde musical – not your traditional musical – but it is also carnivalesque and takes on a fairground sideshow feel. It has a Tom Waits flavour naturally. If you like musicals, you’ll enjoy it but if you’re one of those people who don’t like musicals, you might enjoy it even more!

You’re performing it in an unusual space… 

Yes, we’re in the Pump House on Tuam Street – it’s not a traditional performance venue, we have to bring all our gear in; staging, lighting, sound and a bar. It’s a space that’s been ten years in restoration and strengthening since the earthquakes and we are the first theatre company to perform there. Because the work is set in a historical setting, the Pump House, built in the 1880s, kind of feels authentic and very immersive – the environment becomes part of the performance.

Free Theatre is known for its collaborations – how has that worked with this piece?

We love collaborating and on Woyzeck we are working with some amazing actors and musicians. There are 11 performers  – including musicians – and they are on stage the entire time. It’s totally immersive in that the characters are interacting in all sorts of ways with the audience. We’re operating the lights, running the bar, selling tickets at the door – it’s the way that we always like to work.

Tell me about Hester Ullyart – she’s the lead?

Yes, casting Hester as the lead male character has brought a whole new reading to the work I think. It’s topical and explores traditional definitions of male and female, bringing an extra layer of meaning.

You mentioned before that the play is somewhat avant-garde – do you think people sometimes get a little confused about what avant-garde actually is and think it’s something chaotic or unfinished?

I do think so, and that’s definitely not the case with our projects. We have very high standards in all our productions and our performers and musicians are professionals – we are really enjoying working on this project with some experienced performers for the first time, Hillary Moulder, Tom Trevella and Aaron Boyce and musicians Sam White and Doug Brush.

How do you come up with the ideas for your productions?

Our Artistic Director Peter Falkenberg is never short of ideas! But generally we talk about what’s going on in the world and things that interest us: it might be Bowie or Extinction Rebellion or Warhol or Dada or Samuel Butler or karetao – and then we explore them. It’s not always easy as we are short of time and short of funding and we also exist in a culture where anything different is not always easy to promote. I think it’s fair to say that Free Theatre has never been handed anything on a plate but our artists love that we explore new things all the time and so do our audiences.

You’ve always had a strong following when it comes to your audience?

We have really passionate supporters who care a lot. Just recently we had a Boosted campaign and seeing how people responded to that was very encouraging. It’s also amazing as a performer when you have that joyful moment of connection with an audience when you can share an experience with them that they may not have had before.



Roll up, ladies and gentlemen! A dark carnival is coming to town.

A carnival sideshow in an army barracks, our military band will pump out rousing surrealistic songs and other  fairground entertainments providing sarcastic comments on the human condition and the act of civilisation.

The third in the acclaimed Tom Waits and Robert Wilson musicals, which began with The Black Rider and Alice, Woyzeck is a “fragmented, nightmare-like fable”.

Tom Waits says:

…it’s like a hammer or it’s a tool or it’s a vehicle. It deals with madness and children and obsession and murder – all the things that we care about and care about now as we did then. It’s wild and sexy and curious and catches your imagination and makes you wonder about the people in it and it makes you reflect on your own life.”

The story shows how a good man is turned by society into a murderer. In our version Woyzeck is played by a woman. This gives the actor the opportunity to also explore man and male behaviour, discovering that “man is an abyss – you get dizzy when you look down into it“ (Georg Büchner, the original playwright).

Woyzeck is played by Hester Ullyart who is joined by a mix of experienced local performers: actors – Hillary Moulder, Tom Trevella, Aaron Boyce, Chris Carrow, Marian McCurdy and Greta Bond; and musicians – Reuben Derrick, Sam White, Nicole Reddington and Doug Brush.

Directed by Peter Falkenberg with design by Stuart Lloyd-Harris and costume and make-up by Jenny Ritchie, the recently restored heritage Pump House provides the perfect setting.



Friday 14th April 8.00pm                   Wed 19th April 8.00pm                     Wed 26th April 8.00pm

Saturday 15th April 8.00pm              Thurs 20th April 8.00pm                   Thurs 27th April 8.00pm

                                                                       Fri 21st April 8.00pm                         Fri 28th April 8.00pm

                                                                       Sat 22nd April 8.00pm                       Sat 29th April 8.00pm


Location: The Pump House, 544 Tuam St

Tickets: $25/$40 www.freetheatre.org.nz


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