Writer: Frank Wedekind new version by Anya Reiss
Director: Ben Kidd
Reviewer: Anna Ambelez
‘”We are the parents, we know best” says one of the actors, but do they? This play asks just that; do the adults that shape children and their future, really understand them? An open, grey, metallic, unforgiving stage, alive with teenagers going about their day greets the audience on entering the auditorium, snapping into action with a black out. The initial scenes show the relationships between each player and their individual characters, their hopes, fears and insecurities. We see eight pubescent teenagers going through a year in their life, starting with spring. Short, sharp, slick, snapshot scenes lay the basis of the story, perhaps too frenetic in their changes, while reflecting the turmoil felt by the teenagers.
The eight actor ensemble takes on various parts from teenager to parents to teachers. They are all convincingly strong and believable in their rôles. The direction (Ben Kidd) is tight using the well deigned set (Colin Richmond) and greatly enhanced with sound (George Dennis) and lighting (Malcolm Rippeth) effects taking the action to an even higher level.
There is a quandary when reviving a play whether to stay true to the original or update the content. This revival from the 22 year old award winning playwright Anya Reiss updates it imaginatively with clever use of modern technology. Google searches, texting, social media websites and web links all bring this bang up to date. Various videos (Ian Galloway) are projected onto the rear which has a curtain of wide plastic strips across, cleverly blurring some of the more contentious images. The original character names are kept, like the seeming gauche Moritz (Bradley Hall) and the standard sexually curious Wendia (Aoife Duffin) who exists in every school.
Headlong, known for reviving past work, co-produced the play with West Yorkshire Playhouse, Southampton and Nuffield. To tackle subjects like rape, suicide, abortion, and masturbation on stage, all taboo subjects, is no simple matter, but in 1906 it was utter madness. The German playwright Frank Wedekind wrote the original ‘Spring Awakening’ over 100 years ago in 1891; when it was performed 15 years later it resulted in riots in the streets. Wedekind is partly responsible for the birth of ‘epic theatre’ and influencing Bertolt Brecht. While tackling dark areas, humour was present; a particularly amusing scene illustrated bureaucracy and ‘mature sensible adults’ gone mad when teachers discuss where it would contravene health and safety if one of them opened the window instead of the caretaker!
The play ends with thoughts on the question of what is right and what is wrong. “This is a F***ed up world, life’s not fair” says Melchoir (Oliver Johnstone), well sometimes it isn’t and how well equipped we are to deal with that is one of the areas this play addresses. Many areas also connected to the audience, who covered a wide age range and responded enthusiastically at the end. Spring Awakening has the power to awaken many memories and awaken many to issues they may prefer to ignore, something theatre should be about.