Venue: The Drama Barn
Run: May 15 to May 17 2010
Rating: * * * *
Spring Awakening, written by Frank Wedekind, is a challenging and sophisticated play, potentially difficult to get right. Set in 1890’s Germany, it looks at young people’s discovery of sexuality, and the complexity of the ensuing emotions, results and reactions.
The main story centres around Wendla and Melchior, a young girl and boy still at school who share one brief sexual encounter that results in Wendla’s death and Melchior’s broken spirit. The play’s intermingling of sex, scandal and other taboos proves unsurprisingly relevant to an audience of today’s youth. Simultaneously disturbing and insightful, Emily Spooner and Pippa Dyble’s production of Spring Awakening successfully conveyed this complex register of emotion and action.
The set contributed to much of the success that the play enjoyed: a bleak, eerily white room stylized only with a bench and leafless tree (both white) served to play with the audience’s perception of place throughout. The two deaths took place offstage, and the details were revealed later. The starkness of the set made the sudden absence of these characters all the more conspicuous; for example, the scattering of confetti at Moritz’s funeral on to the bleak whiteness that marks his grave. The pivotal “sex-scene” between Wendla and Melchior takes place in a hay-loft: a beautifully intimate and erotically charged atmosphere was created, the rustling of the hay and the occasional creak from the makeshift loft only adding to a sense of discomfort and desire that lasted, quite ironically, for only a few short minutes.
Casting was perhaps one of the play’s most resounding successes. Freddy Elletson as Melchior, a thoughtful and disillusioned loner, gave a mature and convincing performance that became increasingly turbulent throughout; however, losing none of its charm or sensitivity. Michael Wilkins as Moritz was chaotic, child-like and somber, injecting dark humour even in death. The young girls conveyed a believable innocence and excitability; at times the lead, Francesca Murray-Fuentes as Wendla, resorted to slightly distracting girlish behaviour, but for the most part they each made their way through the minefield of melodrama and came out unscathed. Chi-San Howard who played Ilse was alluring in her madness and melancholy, her walk mesmerizing; and Martha played by Fran Isherwood, although a small part, was perhaps the most girl-like girl, her sweetness making the trials of her family life all the more tragic. The only slight disappointment was Fanny Gabor, Melchior’s mother, a character who was supposed to be fierce and visionary, yet came across uncomfortable and subdued.
The first Act contained little pockets of genius; particularly noteworthy were the intellectual discussions shared between Melchior and Moritz, as they parroted off philosophical thought learnt at school with a muddled-ness that was so beautifully familiar. Wendla’s demand that her mother tell her about sex while proceeding to hide under her apron was both funny and thought-provoking; much of the sadness of Spring Awakening is generated by the older generation’s desire not to break social ranks and enlighten their fast-maturing children, something beautifully illustrated by Wendla and her mother. One outstanding performance was that of Robert Stuart as Hanschen, set the task of indulging in masturbation center stage. He conveyed both curiosity and shame, and an endearing frankness made sure the act was not cheapened and silly.
The second Act began a little disjointedly, as the audience learns of Moritz’s suicide by way of an interview between Melchior and a teacher: a little exaggerated and slightly awkward, the gravity of the boy’s death was somewhat compromised in this opening scene. Far darker and more distressing, the second Act lost some of its energy but reclaimed its momentum in the final scene.
Spring Awakening, a veritable old-time tela-novella, escaped all the dangers of a play that is concerned with teenage issues of sexuality, depression, and suicide: each sad story was lovingly told with a depth that gave the play a powerful and compelling urgency. A real ensemble effort, of which they should all be proud.