Spring Awakening | Theatre Review

“RWCMD’s adaption of Spring Awakening”
by Amelia Forsbrook on 30/05/10

If there was ever a store which sold storylines for Hollyoaks, a review of ‘Spring Awakening’ would look like a shopping list. Abortion. Check. Short Skirts. Check. Depression. Check. Troublesome Parents. Hoop earrings. Sex. Check, check and… you get the point. Yet there is something oh so right about this adaption by acclaimed local playwright Gary Owen, making this an irresistible reworking of a thought-provoking piece, rendered perfect for the Misfits generation.

After just a few minutes of the play, the stage is already full of a repressed energy, discouraging us from reading the ‘spring’ of the title as a time of daffodils and lambs. Instead, we are led to imagine the curled up metallic storage space, prepared for forceful action. And this work sure does pack a punch. The original ‘Spring Awakening’ was written for the Berlin stage in the late nineteenth century. Yet, deemed too controversial for the German theatres with its casual references to masturbation and premarital sex, it wasn’t until 2007 that Steven Sater breathed new life into it, turning it into a fully fueled rock opera with a dark, magnetic pull for awards.

In Owen’s rewrite, the play is dragged into a completely modern setting. Yet although we believe ourselves more developed than our 1891 counterparts, the kids here are still disabled and traumatized by their own lack of knowledge. This is an ignorant world where vacuum cleaners provide the essential manly extensions which leave ladies ‘begging for more’ and ‘mushies can’t be bad for you because they’re natural’.

Yet such moments are balanced out with an unquestionable wisdom as the characters’ discussions aid the play’s self-conscious message: fictional stories are always more complicated than a trip to the off-license, because life is complicated too. Despite the fact ‘Spring Awakening’ is a short play which rushes through its content without an interval to provide a breather, it allows a core of multidimensional characters to emerge as fully believable beings.

In this adaptation, the excommunicated Ilse of the Germanic play is enhanced, becoming the page three favourite ‘Lisa’. Moritz of the original becomes Moz, the suicidal neurotic who is alienated from his society. This society, in turn, is itself developed and modernised into the microcosm of a euphemistic ‘special programme’ for disruptive and disturbed kids.

Hidden behind the guise of an angsty hormone-fuelled comedy, subtle linguistic manoeuvres expose a deeper core to this presentation of identity. In one particularly intelligent moment, we witness characters admire each others’ new trainers to such an extent that ‘sole’ becomes ‘soul’, blurring the boundaries between the rapid consumerism and image obsessiveness of teen-culture with richer understandings of the people shown. Within its minimalistic in-the-round set which resembles a skate-park, RWCMAD make one hell of a statement. Forget Shakespeare’s globe or the Roman Amphitheatre, the arrangement of the audience is as powerful as the pounding d ‘n’ b which kicks off the show. In this way, Gary Owen brings his characters, outsiders usually confined to the peripherals of society, into the centre so that, through the reversal of theatrical conventions, alcoholic mothers, obsessive-compulsive neurotics and bimbos stand where we expect to see brave warriors and brutal kings.

‘Spring Awakening”s choice of representations may be specific, but its ideas are universal. Owen has forged a multilayered script which exposes the power relations that exist between us all and which ebb and flow indiscriminately through centuries, genders, classes and age-groups. Look beyond the frequent use of expletives and banal references to fake tan and you shall see a thorough excavation which skilfully uncovers the importance of communication and knowledge.

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