"Candid and relevant but inconsistent"
by Maddy Ryle for remotegoat on 21/07/10

Wedekind's 'Spring Awakening' is a classic of late 19th century German theatre, its notoriety partly enhanced no doubt by the many bans and censorships to which it has been subjected over the years. This comes as no surprise, given that the play deals with the sexual curiosity of a group of teenagers (fourteen year-olds), desperate to know about the origins of life. Abortion and homosexuality are dealt with in a way that even by today's standards seems refreshingly candid.

This was my first time seeing the play, so it was only after a bit of retrospective research that I could see the nature of the changes that MB Productions have made in this adaptation. Based on a new translation which, without having knowledge of previous versions, encapsulates very successfully the audacity and anguish of the play's subject matter, the major innovation in MB's performance is that virtually all of the scenes in the play are given as re-enactments by the schoolchildren who form the central characters, with the principals' classmates as primary audience (and us as secondary). So there are no adult characters actually appearing on stage; sometimes parents and teachers are represented by the children in these re-enactments; sometimes we hear them as voiceovers. The effect is to emphasise the alienation that these young people feel from the adult world that tries to deny them their knowledge, their 'awakening' - it's an alienation that has strong resonance for our current society.

With a reduced cast that also cuts out some of the minor young characters, another interesting twist in this interpretation is the choice to have the male and female characters in a group together as they discuss the birds and the bees, rather than separately as in the original script. This makes more sense for a twenty-first century audience, and also allows the interesting questions concerning gender that the play contains to be foregrounded.

However while the writing and the content of the play contain a great deal that is thought-provoking and relevant, the acting itself is much more inconsistent. This is challenging material; it's very difficult to play a fourteen-year-old successfully if it's been even a few years since you were one. Some predictable problems occur, with some of the more frenetic scenes becoming bewilderingly hectic, a good deal of overacting going on, and a lack of depth and sympathy to the characters.

Melchior and Moritz, the two boys/young men who, along with pregnant Wendla, are the plays chief tragic victims, were the most successfully cast. Joe Eyre's hypertense and geeky Moritz is recognisable to us all from school, and evokes a great deal of sympathy as a result. He particularly shone in the second act, as the (sometimes disturbing) sexual fantasies of the first half give way to the terribly real consequences of adolescent confusion and fear. Likewise James Corrigan as Melchior seemed to expand into the role as the play developed.

However neither were consistent in their performances, and like the play overall their energy felt taut at times, slack at others - and often overstretched. Cassie Barraclough tried hard to walk the line between girlishness and womanhood, but in the end we felt little for Wendla, and so her demise ultimately becomes something of a cipher for Melchior's fate.

The other problem is that a lot of the best and most interesting material and performance took place in the second act (including the Othello-infused, out-of-the-closet scene between two other male classmates)- but the play feels too long, and so the audience's commitment to it starts to wane some time before the end. Some astute editing to cut down the length might have delivered better performances and a tighter and fresher play overall - which it certainly deserves as this is full of things to ponder.

Add Your review?

Have your say, add your review

Other recent reviews by Maddy Ryle
Roman Around, Ryan Millar
History is the best story by Maddy Ryle
ZIP: Gun & Knife Crime
Powerful sign of the times by Maddy Ryle
PVT. Wars
Comic and troubling Vietnam fallout by Maddy Ryle
Even Greedy Bankers Deserve Freedom
Nice idea, but no bonus by Maddy Ryle
The Twenty Minute Policy, part of the Camden Fringe
Feel free to watch this by Maddy Ryle