Spring Awakening is a dark and powerful work that features violence, rape, abortion, masturbation, homoerotic love and finally death, but not in a cheap or tawdry fashion. All of these events arise as a result of the story’s protagonists (a group of pubescent schoolchildren) having to discover for themselves what love, sex and reproduction mean, as no adult has the courage to share with them this knowledge and place it in its proper context. It is little wonder then that tragedy strikes.
At the heart of the story are a trio of youth, Melchior (Angus Grant), Wendla (Katie-Jean Harding) and Moritz (Dylan Young) who each have a very different reactions to their “spring awakening”, and will undergo a profound transformation by their discovery. Around them is assembled a committed ensemble of actors (Shelly Lauman, Sara Gleeson, Russ Pirie, Beejan Olfat and a scene-stealing Rhys McConnochie) who help to bring the broader world of Wedekind’s story to life.
While the performer’s commitment is never in doubt, the performances themselves veer towards melodrama, particularly in the second act. Often simple action and dialogue is over-stated, as though the actors have little faith in the words they are speaking, or are so committed to the emotions that they are experiencing that they have forgotten their audience. It is these moments in Spring Awakening that are a particularly frustrating, for the audience-member is relegated to the role of voyeur and is denied the communal experience that is theatre.
The power in Wedekind’s work, and no doubt the reason for its scandalous history, is the fact that as an audience we share and become involved in its story, and in-turn are implicated in it revelations. In the Hayloft Project’s production we are merely voyeurs and can too easily choose to allow the events of the play to wash over us and be forgotten, and this does a great disservice to not only Wedekind, but to the performers and their audience.
Having said this, many of the elements in the staging of Spring Awakening are beautifully realized. The sets and costumes by Simon Stone and Mel Page respectively are excellent and are used in innovative and elegant ways and the lighting design by Lucy Birkinshaw compliments these elements nicely. However the sound design by Rob Stewart while clever, intrudes on the performance, taking away from the natural power and poetry of the performers’ voice.
Spring Awakening remains a powerful work, and the challenge for this cast will not be to prove their acting ability (which they all have in abundance), but to allow their audience into the world that they have so carefully created, so that their audience may share it with them.
The Hayloft Project presents
By Frank Wedekind
fortyfivedownstairs, 45 Flinders Lane, Melbourne
Thursday 7th June – Sunday 17th June, every night at 8pm
$25 full / $20 conc. (Monday $15 / $10)