It goes without saying that darkness cannot exist without light, and the brighter the light is, inevitably the stronger the shadow it casts. With Frank Wedekind’s relentlessly heavy material (a lurid magalogue of flagellation, rape, botched abortions and suicide…) the play could easily sacrifice its relatability, but the wonderfully sensitive and genuinely funny performances from across the cast shone bright enough to illuminate depths as dark as these.
A particularly radiant performance was delivered by Sally Pendleton in the role of Wendla’s mother. Sally beautifully illustrated this dialogue between generations, highlighting the idea that age isn’t as divisive as it might appear and that perhaps we are all just as confused as each other.
Our lives today could not be further from the rigidly repressive 1890s. We are all pushed towards perversion on a daily basis with sexuality and sexualisation being present in countless aspects of our lives, and yet, these teenagers’ struggles towards discovering themselves in the context of their stifled sexualities are still relevant and utterly convincing. Melchior’s search for morality is poignant as he reaches for answers that we yearn to grasp, and Sam Irving’s beautiful portrayal of Moritz as he is pushed into suicide by his widely perceived and heavily borne academic failures had me fighting the urge to jump up on the stage and console him. Director Kirstyn Petras wisely side-stepped the temptation to try and further our connection to her troubled teens by updating the play to modern times.
Instead we were presented with Erin Gleeson’s elegantly sparse set – an industrial woodland – which made the actors and their dialogue the focus of our attention, and enabled us to find in them our similarities and not the differences that hold us more than a century apart.
The production began to flag a little in the second act, but this was largely down to the disjointed result of some rather heavy cutting, which was undoubtedly to make up for lost time.
As a result the play sort of stumbled to a halt. Despite this, a very strong first act was easily enough for this production of Spring Awakening to be considered a success that shone a light on Wedekind’s darkness and evoked an audiences’ compassion.