Writer and Director, Daniel Lammin and his ensemble of actors from Monash Uni Student Theatre (MUST) mount a solid and engaging re-interpretation of the 19th century controversial play, Spring Awakening by Frank Wedekind.
Wedekind’s masterpiece spent most the time in the literary wilderness after its inaugural performance after having been banned, censored and shut down over the ensuing 80 years owing to its intense subject matter.
Written in 1891, Wedekind’s play finally got a full, uncensored airing in England in 1974 when it was translated by Edward Bond. Following this came a translation by poet Ted Hughes (Poet Laureate and husband to Sylvia Plath) and then by novelist Jonathan Franzen. Musical theatre enthusiasts adore the 2006 adaptation of play into the musical theatre form which earned a Tony Award.
We are quite saturated with stories of teenage angst on our home-grown soap operas and some excellent teen movies, Juno and Precious, spring to mind. However, to see Wedekind’s beautiful play re-interpreted with all its essence intact and performed live in a theatre by very talented actors, the play’s emotion becomes palpable and the sentiments and heartache is formidably strong and crushingly sad. Needless to say, it is subject matter that needs constant airing and discussion considering all the latest facts and opinions on the current state of youth mental health in Australia.
The play tackles sexual awakening, rejection, depression, homosexuality, rape, domestic abuse and suicide amongst other topics and Lammin and his team portray all of these topics with sensitivity, subtlety and intelligent performances. They play explores the problems and lack of solutions for characters on the cusp on adulthood.
In his re-working of the play, Lammin keeps the same characters and ideas intact from the original but then brings it to the 21st century with use of such devices as text messaging, contemporary music and lingo, AV effects and some hipster costuming. Lammin writing is concise and the scenes are quick and well defined. Lammin’s script encourages us to contemplate and critique the current approach, or lack thereof, we are taking when we are faced the problems of our youth, just as Wedekind did over a century ago.
Act One sees the cast in traditional 19th century costuming. The cast each has a chair to sit on and remain on stage the entire time jumping down onto the thrust stage when it is their turn to perform. Intimacy was created with the thrust staging; the audience enveloping the playing area so closely on all three sides. This engendered a sense that we, society, are looking on, viewing the plight of the young. We realise how delicate a young life can be and we are reminded that what life throws up at us may sometimes feel insurmountable, especially for the young.
Each of the cast members, three males and three females, play several roles from Wedekind’s original cast list. They portray childhood/teenage play and conversation that is fluid and endearing in the initial vignettes before things get darker and darker in the subsequent ones. The myriad of characters from the original play is cleverly whittled down and divided amongst the cast of six.
Imogen Walsh and Nicola Dupree play a wonderful dual-headed mother character; the two actors speaking the lines in unison. This is haunting and amusing at the same time. The pitfalls and difficulty of parenting is highlighted.
Samantha Hafey-Bagg is dynamic on stage and her dance ability is evident. The cast often breaks into movement and song between vignettes and Hafey-Bagg is very charismatic during these moments. At the beginning of act two, the entire cast’s rendition of Queen’s Somebody to Love was stunning.
Eamonn Johnson was able to display the sensitivity and intelligence of gay character, Hanschen. Sam Porter’s array of characters is carefully drawn and he is a strong presence on stage throughout.
James Malcher brings all the angst, brutality and helplessness of Melchior to the fore. The scene where he encounters the wrath of Wendla (Dupree) confronting him about the rape is gripping and heartbreaking.
This production thoroughly deserves its return season and fortyfivedownstairs serves as a perfect space to re-invent and perform this German classic.