‘Spring Awakening’ reviewed by Gordon the Optom.

by March 5, 2015

‘Spring Awakening’ was the first play written by German playwright, Frank Wedekind more than a hundred and twenty years ago. However, due to the controversial content of topics such as puberty, masturbation, rape, flagellation, child abuse, homosexuality, suicide and abortion, the play took about 15 years to have its premiere and for decades was often banned or censored.

Even in 1963, after being hacked by the English censors, the run was only for two nights. A much lighter Broadway musical version of this play was presented in 2006.

This translation from German is by Johnathan Franzen, with creative collaboration by the cast.

The two and three-quarter hour drama can be seen at the Hayman Theatre Upstairs, building 102 on the Curtin University campus, Bentley. Performances each night are at the early time of 7.00 until Saturday 7th March.

 

The stunning set is of a silver birch and bamboo (?) woodland in a German provincial town -the year 1894. The designer, Sally Phipps and her assistant Sean Guastavino, have covered the auditorium walls with bandage width, white strips with bark pattern printed on. The stage is of a bower in a wood. Construction by the ever-reliable, still alive, Ian Stewart.

The set is brought to life by Karen Cook’s brilliant lighting. Karen has employed strong side lights combined with multiple ‘pups’ (small low power spots). The warm soft lighting puts a glow on the walls, and the actors are lit by the incident glow. Lighting operated by Maddi Mullins.

Elliot Macri’s delightful music and soundscape is just the simple unobtrusive style and level required. Sound operated by Georgia Smith.

 

        Lying on the bank of the wooded creek in the sunlight is innocent, fourteen years old, Wendla (Beth Tremlett), she is dreaming of love and not wearing knickers. Upon awakening, she meets her equally naïve, good friends, Martha (Savannah Wood) and Thea (Amelia Tuttleby). As they are chatting, the handsome Melchior (Sean Guastavino) walks past and their bodies experience a brand new feeling.

       Back at home, Wendla learns that her cousin has had a baby and so once again tackles her mother as to how exactly babies are ‘initiated’. Her overprotective Mum (Kayla MacGillvray) explains about ‘the stork’, which does little to satisfy even naïve Wendla. Not surprisingly, when Wendla meets Melchior later in the hayloft, the inevitable occurs.

       Melchior meets his school pal, the shy and often teased, Moritz (Alexander Gerrans); they discuss women, and what they know about them – mainly innocent lies. Whilst Melchior faces the mechanical facts of sex with excitement, Moritz seems somewhat traumatised. Their friend, Hansy (Jeremy Bunny) is having more advanced fantasies and imagines himself making kinky love to Thea.

      In the second Act, the cruel and bullying headmaster, Heart Payne (Jarryd Dobson), finds Melchior’s sexually blatant letter to Moritz. Backed by the school teaching staff, the headmaster gets the poor janitor, Fetch (Terence Smith) to carry out his outrageous demands. With little support from their parents – especially Moritz’s father (Aaron Smith) – terrible consequences follow for the two young teenagers. Wendla has just discovered that she is anaemic – or could she be pregnant? The doctor (Gemma Middleton) is called in.

     A masked figure (Nathan Whitebrook) appears, he seems to be the conscience or fate of the people around.

 

Director Teresa Izzard, with a dozen cast and two dozen techies to cope with, has taken on the dramaturg help of Nathan Whitebrook, and acting coach Phil Miolin. The production is topped off with make-up by Heather Jerrems and a talented costume team (Chelsea Johnston, Kate Phipps) led by Hannah Miller.

This complex play has been admirably stage managed by Samantha Barrett and her deputies, Dylan Dorotich and Laura Beeton.

There are a couple of areas that the script could have been thinned out slightly, but the director kept the pace moving on beautifully. Most of the cast had several parts, but managed to move between the personalities smoothly and still portray their characters with depth. The four or five leading parts were extremely well acted, and were backed faultlessly by the remaining cast.

The first Act of the play (it is the first two Acts of the book) shows the awakening of the children’s youth and their becoming aware of sex. The second Act shows the darker side and consequences of acquiring too much knowledge of intimacy.

The tickets for this epic are almost sold out, but try and get one if you can. There are quite a few players in their first major production, and yet the result is wonderful. Very many congratulations, a most professional production.