Edinburgh Fringe 2013
We are introduced to growing up. This is not, however growing up through teenage angst drama but a school that is formed from Frank Wedekind’s Spring Awakening so it has its roots in German and is of a time long past. The language is very much of the present as we start with children’s games that give way to the stern theatre of a brutal school environment. We find ourselves meeting the awkward Moritz struggling to be accepted, the handsome Melchior who wishes to know girls and all of the angst of becoming an adult through puberty and sexual urges as well as a young 14 year old Wendla who is unable to get the right answers out of her mother. It leads to the Moritz things and Melchior being sent down for inappropriate activities whilst the object of those activities – Wendla – dies. Where it actually finishes is with us realising that we have had these issues forever and still struggle to find answers then or now.
This is well crafted and the visual language is underpinned by a narrative arch that is both believable and well paced. The fact that it takes us to a time and place where we believe that sex was repressed and that young people struggle not only for acceptance but to be noticed underpins how we undervalue them today. The narrative is furthermore given bounce from the set movement pieces particularly the Ball that comes across as a Grotesque Masque and sets up the beginning of the end very well. I also liked the fact that Moritz tried to write and talk of his suicidal feelings – hoping for an intervention – but far away enough emotionally and physically to know that one was not possible.
With any young cast in a youth theatre setting you can expect two things – plenty of people and a variable standard of ability. Here though I felt we had over 20 young people who had got to a fairly high standard. They judged the pace well and performed off each other in set pieces with great dexterity. I liked the change from the prep school to borstal and both scenes had the same actors with very clear new personas. There were a lot of very large themes on display not least of which was suicide and the death of a 14 year old. The set pieces were not just ably done but achieved with great skill.
The design was great with simplicity at its heart though I did have issues with constantly changing things round for little effect some times but at other times it was clear why. The direction took full advantage of the two movable – and HUGE – stages onstage. Occasionally I just felt they were being moved because a lot of the budget had been spent on them; it didn’t feel totally integral. The contribution made by the soundscape further increased my pleasure and the Ball in particular haunts. When Moritz returns to haunt Melchior we get another dimension still with Melchior’s past not only catching up with him but further shaming him.
I thoroughly enjoyed this and at times though it may have looked like Les Mis on teenage hormones it was a triumph. Apart from the minor gripes about the movement of the staging there was much to commend and it is more than worthy of a visit.