Spring. A burgeoning of new life and things that have lain dormant re-awakening. Not only in nature but in Ted Hughes’ translation of Franz Wedekind’s 1890 play, Spring Awakening, it is the sexual awakening of a group of teenagers that provides the dramatic drive.
In a world of repressed emotions, where talk of sex is taboo, young people have to rely on each other for snippets of information. Melchior seems outwardly worldly wise and is persuaded to write a guide to sex for his shy and slightly simple friend Moritz. Fourteen-year-old Wendla is still convinced that storks deliver babies after her mother staunchly refuses to tell her anything about the facts of life, while Hans is wracked with religious guilt over his urges.
Frank Wedekind’s work has caused much controversy over the years, often banned and often heavily censored and, at first glance, it seems an odd choice for the late Poet Laurete Hughes to translate. Hughes’ influence is evident, however, with passages of lyrical language that often counterpoint the pain onstage.
Covering subjects including rape, homosexuality, and teenage suicide, Spring Awakening is a brave choice for any theatre group and especially a youth theatre company. The New Wolsey Young Company, though, tackles these emotive subjects with frank honesty and maturity.
Set against a simple staging combining the claustrophobic interior of their homes with the dark and concealing forest, the scenes flow with choreographic style.
There are some nice individual performances that manage to combine innocence with teenage angst and burgeoning sexual awareness. Particularly impressive are Steve Withers as the tortured soul, Moritz, a highly detailed characterisation that grips the attention Aidan Napier as the outwardly confident but inwardly equally naïve Melchior has to come to terms with the consequences of his actions that also has a catastrophic outcomes for Lorna Garside’s Wendla.
Rob Salmon’s direction draws much out from his young company but there are a couple of areas that would benefit from some work. Hughes’ text is full of long speeches that require rhythm and pace to allow the audience to absorb the rich, often visual, language. At times the language is lost in rapid delivery that results in hurried diction and meter.
The decision to play the academic staff in the piece as comedic parodies also sits uncomfortably with the naturalistic style of the rest of the piece. While the wish to inject some light and humour into an otherwise dark and intense evening is understandable, here it does little more than detract.
Spring Awakening shows that youth theatre doesn’t have to shy away from tackling risqué and challenging subjects. The piece may be 120 years old but the challenges faced by the teenagers remain just as relevant today and, lets hope that by highlighting these challenges on stage, it provokes open discussion and debate instead of the climate of repression faced by the protagonists.
Photo: Aidan Napier and Steve Withers in Spring Awakening. Photo by Mike Kwasniak