Venue: The Drama Barn
Spring Awakening, is a play focused on extremes. As such, over two hours, it shifts frequently between innocence and corruption, comedy and tragedy, gentleness and violence – sometimes all within one sentence. An adaptation of Frank Wedekind’s 19th Century play, the story centres on Wendela, compellingly presented in all her insecurities by Golfo Migos, a 14 year old girl on the cusp of maturity, as well as school boys Melchior and Mortiz, who struggle to cope with their burgeoning sexuality. Melchior is well captured by David Bolwell as the bright and confident star pupil whose encounters with Wendela form the crux of the play. To say Spring Awakening wants to shock you would be to offer a very narrow perspective on a production with a great deal of subtly to boast about. Pulling from Shakespeare and Faust, and full of witty dialogue, no scene is without interest. Despite this, as you are warned while you huddle around in a line outside the Drama Barn, the play is violent, and emotionally distressing – not for the faint of heart.
Comedy is used to underpin the play’s central conflicts. What is sad is usually funny, and what is funny is usually sad.
The play is also extremely Freudean. The production places its eager, frustrated young heroes firmly between the rock of a dangerously repressive society that would deny them the most innocent of curiosities, and the hard place of brutal desires that ought never to be realised. Director Buffy Watling and the production department do an excellent job capturing the pastoral scene out of which both innocence and wild ferocity emerges.
On the whole, the comedy is done better than the drama. This does not leave the play frivolous by any means, as humour is the source of as much poignancy as the presentations of violence or emotional turmoil in the play. Wit is also used to underpin the play’s central conflicts. What is sad is usually funny, and what is funny is usually sad. This last general rule of thumb can be seen most clearly in Jamie Bowman’s stand out performance as Mortiz, Melchior’s hapless best friend, and a nervous wreck of sexual and academic frustration who is just trying to pass his exams and quell some of his more shameful urges. Bowman pours himself into character perfectly, making soliloquys and dialogue both extremely funny and extremely touching. His work makes Mortiz interesting and endearing at once, and the play could not do without his nuanced performance.
Throughout the play, violence is examined both euphemistically and explicitly, pitting laughter against tense and disturbing silence. At the first end of the spectrum, Joseph Hayes’s hilarious performance of a masturbatory monologue expertly uses all the humour in his speech to hide the violent fantasy in which his character, Hans, is indulging. In contrast, on stage violence is matched by stark lighting, and staging that leaves little to the imagination. Drama Soc remain consistent, however, in their use of juxtaposition and the melody James McIlwrath gently plucks from his acoustic guitar is set against some of the more disturbing moments of the play. These juxtapositions allow Drama Soc to ensure that the audience is repeatedly denied a simple interpretation of the play that they are watching.
When you see it, and you should, these extremes will become apparent to you – but the elegance with which they are presented is what makes the experience a worthwhile one. Through compelling performance and careful stage-craft, Drama Soc have succeeded in putting on a play that prompts serious thought about how any society ought to approach sex, violence, and morality. But, if nothing else, you can always enjoy some of the most creative masturbation jokes you’ve heard in your life.