The last time I saw Headlong Theatre Company a few months ago, they were presenting to the audience a wild and electric adaptation of George Orwell’s novel 1984, which was met with great acclaim. Headlong’s most recent production, in association with the West Yorkshire Playhouse and Nuffield Theatre Company, breathes new life into German playwright Frank Wedekind’s 1906 play Spring Awakening. The company and writer Anya Reiss have given the text a modern update, offering the audience a distorted and dark view into the misunderstood world of a generation of teenagers.
Spring Awakening traces the fragmented narratives of Wendla Bergmann and Moritz Stiefel, played by Aoife Duffin and Bradley Hall respectively, along with their friends. The story follows the characters and the decisions they make as they attempt to navigate a dark world, along with the events they encounter that change their lives forever.
Designer Colin Richmond’s simplistic set creates a shadowy and playful performance space for the actors in a sparse playground-esque space. It is, however, Headlong’s signature use of intense, dramatic lighting and sound that truly illuminates the set, the characters and the narrative. Headlong also makes use of live video and projections, which breathe yet more life into the narrative and pushes the thoughts, emotions and feelings of the characters right to the forefront of the production, while also adding a unique and engrossing design aesthetic. The sheer synchronicity between the razor-sharp, bright lights and the sonic soundtrack adds to this compelling aesthetic: it grabs your attention and doesn’t let go.
The company work incredibly well together, with the strength of the ensemble really shining through in certain places. The dialogue of the characters is naturalistic and honest, offering a somewhat distorted look into the realm of a misunderstood generation. Many of the characters are also dynamic even when not in their own scenes, remaining on stage to present the image of a living, breathing world, making the narrative and characters’ situations all the more real.
Spring Awakening ticks all the right boxes with regards to being a powerful piece of contemporary theatre: it engages you, comments on the world we live in today and gets you to think about your views on it. While I found the play’s style particularly enthralling, I can understand why some people may find it a little too intense. The play deals with some rather hard-hitting subject matters, and Headlong’s eclectic presentational style might not be to everyone’s taste.
If none of that puts you off, however, then I can guarantee that this new version of Spring Awakening is a dark, tongue-in-cheek, edge-of-your-seat thrill ride that will keep you thinking long after the final blackout.
Spring Awakening is playing at the West Yorkshire Playhouse until 22 March. For more information and tickets, see the West Yorkshire Playhouse website.