Review: Spring Awakening

Martha Fromson 27 February 2013

Spring Awakening

Mumford Theatre, Mon 25th Feb, 7.30pm

Spring Awakening definitively illustrates the need for open and frank sexual education. It is an interesting, but somewhat disturbing play, which powerfully condemns the shrouding of sexual matters beneath a veil of shame and mystery.

The play tells the story of a group of young teenagers approaching sexual maturity in 19th century Germany. The two main characters, Moritz (Christopher Smart) and Melchior (David McLaughlin), have differing world views as Moritz struggles to cope with his parents’ academic expectations of him and questions the naturalness of his burgeoning sexuality, while Melchior insists that sexual desires are natural and nothing to be ashamed of. However, this attitude brings him into sharp conflict with the repressive social attitudes of the time and has devastating consequences for him and Wendla, a naive teenage girl kept totally innocent by her loving, but narrow-minded, mother.

The mood is dark, with repeated discussions of suicide, shame and the fear of failure. The most extreme scenes are both distressing and compelling, however, sometimes this play tries too hard to be dramatic and ends up merely feeling forced. For example, Moritz’s discussion of the emotional significance of the fairy tale of the headless queen felt very artificial. Likewise Ilse’s sudden reappearance in the second half as a debauched bohemian was more bewildering than dramatic; her appearances in the first half had been too brief for the audience to really become invested in her character development.

However, the performance did have some lighter moments which prevented it from becoming uniformly depressing. The farcical scene where the teachers’ discussion of the serious moral problems their school faced segued into a debate over whether to open a window was entertaining, but also emphasised the ridiculousness of the men presuming to judge anyone’s moral character.

The acting was generally of mixed quality. McLaughlin was fantastic as Melchior, giving the role the brooding depth and intensity it requires. Similarly Gabrielle Dempsey portraying Wendla really brought the character to life, making her multidimensional and capable of childlike innocence and energy, profound grief and concern for her abused friend and deep bewilderment and rage at her mother’s failure to educate her about sex. However, Gemma Barrett, playing her mother, rather exaggerated the role and had an unfortunate tendency to squawk when attempting to convey distress.

The metal cage-like structures made a brilliant set, highlighting the themes of repression and restriction, which were so dominant in this play. The way that the characters clambered over and through these cages beautifully symbolised their struggles against the strictures of their society.

Overall, this was a strong performance of a classic play, which has lost none of its impact since it was banned over a hundred years ago.

Martha Fromson