Review: Spring Awakening

Ed Rowett 21 November 2008

It was with a certain degree of apprehension that I settled in my seat to watch this year’s freshers play. The audience was a little sparse, probably because by this point in the term most people are just looking for light entertainment, which this most definitely isn’t.

It had courted a lot of controversy in the week or so before hitting the stage; banned for eighty years and encompassing themes such as rape, abortion, communal male masturbation, homosexuality and sadomasochism many wondered if it was a suitable choice for the ADC.

It was certainly a brave choice, and one that could have gone catastrophically wrong. There is a fine line between tasteful portrayal

of disturbing sexual images and self-gratifying indulgence and luckily this production just manages to stay on the right side of it. At times, though, the themes weren’t treated with quite enough gravity: a slightly uneasy comic streak ran through, occasionally tipping into farce and sniggering vulgarity and lessening the dramatic impact. The audience burst into loud guffaws once or twice and this felt slightly askew considering the nature of the piece.

The actors faced the insurmountable difficulty of trying to represent fourteen year olds and it was easy to forget that the characters were supposed to be children. This took the edge off the performance and made it less shocking.

Rory Stallibrass stood out as Melchior and looked suitably youthful but Alex Lass simply looked too old to be convincing as Moritz.

The other characters were somewhat unmemorable and blended into each other. More effort will be needed if any of them are hoping to be big names at the ADC in future years.

The programme states that this play was probably never written to be performed and I’m inclined to agree with that. This is primarily

a play about inner turmoil and finding equilibrium in a strange and terrifying world.

The beauty is in the psychological aspect of the play and many of the actual events are tricky to perform convincingly. Setting and props were kept minimal (with a particularly effective moon projected onto the backdrop towards the end).

Costumes were also suitably simple but in keeping with the era portrayed. Any more complex accoutrements would have taken something away from the play itself. I initially wondered whether this play had anything to say to a modern Cambridge audience. We no longer live in a world constrained by repression and rectitude, nor do we have to endure a prudish public silence on the subject of sex.

However, this is more than just a tract about the importance of sex education because regardless of how edified we might now be on the subject of the birds and the bees the yawning gap between the force of desire and the possibilities

for its release is a timeless phenomenon. The play also restores some of the mystery to sex, which is something we might do well to consider in our rather more prurient age.

This play was always going to be difficult to pull off but on the whole, it is a well – executed performance

that raises some interesting questions.

Do go and see this if you want to witness something different and challenging, don’t go if you’re looking for something light-hearted

to take your mind off work.

Ed Rowett