One from the archives...
From the moment the (flood) lights come up to reveal a furiously masturbating teenager sat on a toilet, the tone is set for Headlong’s adaptation of Frank Wedekind’s Spring Awakening.
Oddly, this teenage is masturbating to…a description of a Renaissance painting of a nude (as you do). It’s one of many such moments in Anya Reiss’ adaptation that promises to “breathe fresh life into this classic.” Hmm…in the age of hardcore Internet porn, it’s nothing if not an eccentric choice of material for a teenage boy to get his rocks off to.
And herein lies the biggest problem with this adaptation. Wedekind’s original was written at a time when fin de siècle Europe was caught in a period of flux and uncertainty, shedding its Victorian sensibilities while standing on the edge of an exciting and unknown precipice called modernism. Teenagers were occasionally seen, but certainly never heard. Things have well er…changed a little since then, Ms Reiss.
You see Miss Reiss, while nineteenth century teenagers were well and truly suffocated under strict codes of morality and sexual repression, things have, well moved on a wee bit since. Reiss’ teenagers are a queer old bunch, an anachronistic set with behaviour patterns and a vernacular that scream ‘fake.’ You’d certainly have to travel far and wide to meet teenagers like those encountered on this stage. At the very least you’d have to search the Milky Way. And some more.
I mean who in the name of Nebuchadnezzar would believe that any 14 year old girl in 2014 would wonder where babies come from? Again, highly plausible in Wedekind’s era, but highly improbable in this version where the teenagers readily surf the net and chat on Skype. If Wendla really did want to know where babies come from and Frau Bergman wouldn't say, could she not have hooked up her superfast WiFi and asked Jeeves instead?
Indeed the octet of performers never seem quite sure about their identity. The original script has been hacked into and apart from the addition of a litany of F-words, does not actually develop under its own steam leaving the cast crying out for a strong artistic vision. It never happens, no kiddin’ Ben.
When Moritz hangs himself – a teenage boy remember – why does the audience not feel moved to pity? Or anger? Simple. The characters and their plight are just not drawn with enough depth to engage our sympathies. Thus an audience who should have been moved to fury, just shrug; hey shit happens.
And so the performers bravely plod on to a loud and garish hip hop soundtrack, floodlights and random video projections. At one point Anthony Hopkins appears infamously blacked up as Othello. Not sure why other than the company appear to have a projector and er…a dvd of Othello knocking around. And why not? Could just have easily have been Starsky and Hutch…
Strangely though for a play that delights in being In-Yer-Face and insists on assaulting the eyes and ears with light and sound, just when the play genuinely needed to turn techno it just wimpers away. I refer to the scene when the ghost of Moritz re-appears - Well, clings on to the swing is more accurate. Had director Ben Kidd shot his bolt? A less convincing ghostly scene you will need to go a long way to encounter. Supernatural it sure as hell wasn't.
Watching the dead Moritz clinging to the swing briefly put one in mind of that infamous episode in British football history when Scottish fans dismantled Wembley back in '77. The picture of the Tartan army swinging on the goalposts before dismantling them and taking them back to Glasgow on the Inter-city came flooding back as Moritz clung to his own crossbar. Points to Mr Kidd for bringing those memories gloriously back to life, albeit inadvertently.
Sorry, but it takes a bit more than just copious swearing and flashing lights to “breathe fresh air into a classic”. It takes a serious examination of the text and its themes; it also takes a strong sense of artistic direction once those themes have been fully examined. This production merely skims the surface.
This Spring Awakening is more concerned with being urban and cool than getting stuck into the rather boring task of dramatising issues. One seriously doubts that the people behind this production know or even care about how the play was conceived. While it may please some – at least on the surface with its bells and whistles - scratch beneath the surface, and you find uncertainty, hollowness. Think GCSE grade E.
Ultimately Spring Awakening 2014 feels like the footlight’s (or should that be the floodlights?) end of term show for the faculty, by the faculty. Full of sound (oh yes, lots and lots of sound) and (a distinct lack of) fury, signifying er..not a lot actually.
But rest assured residents of Munich, that sound you've been hearing of late is nought to be afeared of. It's just Herr Wedekind turning in his grave....