Sunday, 10 June 2007

Spring Awakening, The Hayloft Project, June 10, 2007

Spring Awakening by Franz Wedekind 
by The Hayloft Project
At  fortyfivedownstairs, Mon to Sun 8pm until June 10 to 17, 2007
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on 2007

Spring Awakening, a play by Franz Wedekind, was written in 1890 but its performances were heavily censored until the 1960s. Wedekind’s themes of the sexual awakening of teenagers were ahead of his time, in fact, ahead of Freud. Surprisingly, they are still challenging.

The play is a violent indictment of the sexual repression of Wedekind’s society. The ignorance of the children and their parents’ lack of candour about sexual issues lead to at best shame, secrecy and perversion and at worst to unwanted pregnancy, dangerous abortion and suicide.

A group of children attend school, struggle to understand Virgil and Aristotle and vie for academic places in their next year. Melchior (Angus Grant), a brooding adolescent, writes a frank manual about sexual reproduction. His friend, Moritz (Dylan Young), an anxious student, is mortally afraid of failing his parents’ expectations. The innocent young girl, Wendla (Katie-Jean Harding), having never experienced a beating, craves a whipping at the hands of Melchior.

Simon Stone’s directorial debut production is swift moving and contemporary in style. His abstract setting creates a parallel to the confused and chaotic psyches of the children. In the first half old, wooden school desks are arranged uniformly in the stark space and the real windows of the warehouse space allow the children a forbidden view onto the adult world.

In the second half, when the downward spiral begins, the desks are tossed and piled haphazardly. Tufts of dried grass litter the floor and line the formerly pristine window ledges. The children must negotiate a complex landscape of obstacles in this new season of life.

Stone keeps the cast on stage throughout. As scenes are played, those who are technically off-stage remain visible, perching on window ledges, hiding behind desks or in corners, or peering out through windows.

The performances are all capable and committed and the contemporary gaze of a young cast and director gives the play a modern feel. Playing the remaining children are Shelly Lauman, Sara Gleeson, Russ Pirie and Beejan Olfat (OK) and there is a marvellously peculiar cameo by Rhys McConnochie of a man in a gas mask.

There is a violent energy and a menacing atmosphere in Spring Awakening with a sense of impending doom for these innocents.

By Kate Herbert

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