Headlong have created a vivid and energetic production of Anya Reiss’ Spring Awakening. Fully updated from Frank Wedekind’s 1891 text, it reflects on the lives of teenagers today through a host of controversial subjects: under-age sex, masturbation, domestic abuse, abortion, suicide and rape.
It is a bold production in every sense. From the split seconds of glaring white lights to the pounding soundtrack (a mix of rock, hip-hop and rap) to the excellently adapted script, the modern day concept has been totally embraced. Placed smack bang in the 21st century with blurred porn clips played on mobile phones, suicide messages posted on YouTube and the internet serving as the main source to satisfy and ignite young, curious minds, there is no denying Headlong’s confrontation of the shocking expanse of ignorance and lack of education in today’s world.
The visceral aesthetic has been fully absorbed into designer Colin Richmond’s striking set. Consisting mostly of chairs, a few beds and a swing set littered across the stage, it immediately sets the tone of disorder and confusion. Cold metal also plays a large part in this design and evokes an industrial, factory setting, particularly with the long slatted plastic sheet that acts as a curtain along the back of the stage. It seems poignantly symbolic of the static and formal relationship between adults and children. In a searing image, plastic classroom chairs stand amok the stage, facing all directions, forming a metaphorical and literal graveyard of childhood ignorance.
It is as much a tale about children playing at grown-up as it is a tale about adults playing children, with the lines between the two deliberately blurred as the cast switch back and forth between them with ease. It posits a clear message that even in the present day our channels of communication between generations are still not as open and honest as they should be, despite our now considerably easier access to information.
Reiss’ version climaxes a little too quickly though and almost skims over the tragedies of Wedekind’s text. Bradley Hall’s portrayal of Moritz Stiefel shows him as an inquisitive and confused teenager, but we never really get any sense of despair or pain from him which leaves his sudden suicide feeling pretty unwarranted, which isn’t the case in the original work. Aoife Duffin (Wendla) and Oliver Johnstone (Melchior) shuffle through a few awkward encounters with humour but again, neither of them are allowed enough time for their characters to develop to a point of real emotional involvement on the audience’s part. However, as an ensemble the cast play up this boisterous production well, whilst Ben Kidd’s direction has allowed the overall angst and turbulence of teenage years to shine through.
Spring Awakening is currently touring. For more information and tickets, see the Headlong Theatre website.