Photos - Nicholas Higgins
It is strange to think that Frank Wedekind's Spring Awakening, written in Germany in 1891, was written in the same century as Jane Austen's lifetime. The sheer ferocity of language, the garish and confronting ideas, and innovation of storytelling contained in this work seems completely modern and provocative even by today's standards.
The play portrays the lives of seven teenagers around the age of fourteen, trying to handle the miserable confusion and inevitable hormonal urges of puberty – their sexual, 'spring awakenings'. The world in which they are raised is a series of rules, boundaries, secrets and accusations. Their parents are in turns abusive, frigid, and terrified of difficult questions; their school is oppressive and secretive and accusatory. For better or for worse, each finds their own response to the challenges they face.
Hayloft have brought this production to Sydney having already performed two versions of this play in Melbourne, and this is a great opportunity to see some of the work coming out of the Melbourne independent theatre scene. It's a short production, with two halves of thirty minutes each, and as many of the cast and crew are graduates of the Victorian College of the Arts, it is also great to see young theatre-makers who are clearly talented and passionate about what they do.
Lighting by Niklas Pajanti and set design by Adam Gardiner combines to build a grid of nine tight, individually contained boxes from which the actors present most of the play. Each of the boxes, individually lit, shapes and colours the different characters and also serves to create a sense of height and depth rarely achieved in the Belvoir downstairs theatre space.
This production is one of the most harrowing and discomforting theatre experiences I have had to date. A loud, disconcerting soundscape created by Hamish Michael counterpoints the actors shaking and screaming, and the story portrays violence, rape, and death. Yet the production resists falling into gratuitous shock-value, and what appears onstage is part of a carefully-considered and effective realisation of the playwright's work. The aggressive, and just generally very full-on nature of the production may not be to everyone's taste, but if you are keen to experience, as director Simon Stone puts it, “an expressionistic carnival of the grotesque”, it is a rewarding experience.
I loved it.
The Hayloft Project and B Sharp present
Written by Frank Wedekind
Venue: Belvoir St Downstairs Theatre, 25 Belvoir St, Surry Hills
Dates: 25 June – 13 July
Times: Tues 7pm, Wed-Sat 8.15pm, Sun 5.15pm
Tickets: $29/$23 (Preview $20, Cheap Tues Pay-what-you-can min $10)
Bookings: 9699 3444 or www.belvoir.com.au