Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Awakening, MUST, May 11, 2017 ***

Written by Daniel Lammin
Adapted from Spring Awakening by Franz Wedekind
Presented by Monash University Student Theatre (MUST) and fortyfivedownstairs
At fortyfivedownstairs, until May 21, 2017
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
 Review also published in Herald Sun Arts week of May 15, 2017. (Not on line yet.) KH
Awakening_pic by Theresa Harrison

Ah, puberty! That volatile and bewildering time when childish bodies suddenly transform, sexuality awakens, emotions seem out of control, and nobody – especially parents – understands you.

We oldies may have forgotten how fraught life can feel at 14, but the university student actors in Awakening are not many years older than the troubled 14-year olds they portray in Daniel Lammin’s adaptation of Franz Wedekind’s controversial 1891 German play, Spring Awakening.

Lammin’s production channels the conservatism and repression of 19th Austria that Wedekind so scathingly attacked, but Lammin interweaves the contemporary experiences of 21st century teens who communicate through texts and Snapchat, take innumerable selfies and dance to 5 Seconds of Summer.

The six performers (Nicola Dupree, Samanth Hafey-Bagg, Eamonn Johnson, James Malcher, Sam Porter, Imogen Walsh) switch from 19th century dress to modern clothing in the second act, but the issues confronting these children remain the same: sexuality, depression, rape, violence, masturbation, sado-masochism and, ultimately, suicide.

They straddle the border between childhood and adulthood, shifting from chanting rhymes and playing games to struggling with bodily changes and the complexity of the adult world, all the while fighting to get answers to their questions about life, love and sex.

The play is episodic, with scene titles being projected on a rear screen in the style of Bertolt Brecht’s Epic Theatre of the early and mid-20th century.

In this episodic structure, we witness teenage characters that represent the differing experiences of adolescents.

Melchior is the golden boy who is smart, handsome and confident, while his friend, Moritz, is academically weak, unloved and depressed and Hansy is rude, selfish and a cheat.

Amongst the girls, the naive Wendla’s life is shattered when she is raped, Marta assumes that being beaten by her father is normal, and Ilse is the promiscuous outsider.

There are several strong and emotive scenes, one being Moritz’s last, lonely moments balanced on the edge of a rooftop, texting his friend before he jumps, and another is the funeral scene when these young people wrestle with the concept of death.

In one horrific moment, we witness Wendla’s desperate cries when she is raped, and in another poignant scene she confronts Melchior who craves forgiveness.

A more positive moment is the cast’s rendition of Queen’s Somebody To Love with its impassioned lyrics and exhilarating harmonies.

Lammin’s directorial choice to have each performer playing multiple roles may give the sense that these teenagers share common experiences, but the performers lack the skill to differentiate between characters as they switch roles, and this is often confusing for an audience.

This contemporary adaptation is enhanced by the authenticity and energy of its youthful cast and it raises challenging social issues that echo the problems faced by the children in Wedekind’s 19th century Austria.

By Kate Herbert

Awakening was developed by Lammin with Monash University Student Theatre for its first season at Trades Hall in 2016.

Director Daniel Lammin
Lighting Shaun Haney
Design Julia Kaddatz
Costume Charmian Sim

Nicola Dupree
Samanth Hafey-Bagg
Eammon Johnson
James Malcher
Sam Porter
Imogen Walsh

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