Photos – Theresa Harrison
As the debate rages on around the controversial teen TV show 13 Reasons Why, it’s no wonder that a 19th century equivalent is striking a chord and enjoying a remount by Monash Uni Student Theatre.
With Safe Schools being slowly abandoned, and children being mistreated in institutions like Barwon and Dondale, Frank Wedekind’s influential 1891 play Spring Awakening has, unfortunately, lost none of its heft or relevance. As Edward Bond, who wrote the first English translation, said: “It becomes more relevant as our armies get stronger, our schools, prisons and bombs bigger, our means of imposing discipline ... more veiled, and our self-knowledge not much greater.”
It makes sense, then, that director/writer Daniel Lammin has divided the play into two parts: the first in the original, turn of the century German setting of leiderhausen and hopscotch, and the second a contemporary interpretation in the era of mobile phones and paddling pools full of goon.
Written as a criticism of the 1800s and hypocrisy of the education system, Spring Awakening tackles taboos which remain the same today, albeit viewed differently: sex, depression, masturbation, homosexuality, child abuse, rape, sadomasochism, suicide, abortion and religious hypocrisy. No wonder it didn't get its first uncensored English performance in a translation by Bond until 1974.
Lammin and his young, passionate cast have very much made the play their own: a mother is played by two actors speaking simultaneously, lending these scenes a spooky, horror movie vibe. In the original play Wendla, the rape survivor, becomes pregnant and dies of an abortion, but in this adaptation she lives to confront him and haul him over the coals of his guilt.
The stark set design is effectively puritanical, the lighting is compelling, and the projections which convey the text messages in the second half are a powerful portrayal of the isolation of adolescence.
Some aspects of the play, however, are frustrating. To hint at the contemporary reworking in the second half, the kids in the first half briefly whip out a phone for a selfie, and later on start thrashing around to some indie rock, which comes across as clunky. In the second half the actors interchange characters and it’s hard to keep up with who is who.
The pace and acting requirements of the play are demanding, and unfortunately the young cast isn't always up to scratch. The acting is good for a student production, but their limitations do make it come across as just that.
With such heavy, topical subjects it feels like this production should be more provocative and challenging than it is, and while their approach is whole-hearted and ambitious, it still ends up falling a bit flat.
fortyfivedownstairs and Monash Uni Student Theatre
by Daniel Lammin
Director Daniel Lammin
Venue: fortyfivedownstairs | 45 Flinders Lane Melbourne
Dates: 10 – 21 May 2017
Tickets: $25 – $35
Bookings: 03 9662 9966 | www.fortyfivedownstairs.com